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Together Like Oil and Water

Interview with Stacy Primack
4 January 2021
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How does oil dissolve in water?

Cannabis beverages hit the Canadian market like a soft pindrop. They’ve been legal and on shelves for over a year but they’re still an item for early adopters. There are two common types, a small concentrated shot, or a carbonated soda. Regardless of the potency, each drink is considered the equivalent of 5.5 grams of dried flower and you’re only legally allowed to carry five on your person at a time. The fervor for infused drinks that market pundits were predicting was right in line with other predictions for legal cannabis in Canada, overstated. But some things go together like oil and water.

 

Just like all the fun cannabinoids and… water. From our guides, to our recipes and dosing calculator, we continually repeat that THC dissolves in fats and oils only. So then, how do carbonated cannabis drinks exist? Unless the drinks are carbonated oil, this doesn’t seem to make sense. Nobody wants to drink carbonated olive oil. [Double checks facts] Cannabinoids are hydrophobic, will only dissolve in oils.

I need solid information to resolve my conundrum, not online mom-blog hearsay.  I had the privilege of interviewing Stacy Primack of SōRSE Technology to find out how exactly cannabinoids can be made to dissolve into water.

Oils do not dissolve in water. This only changes if you are doing a chemical treatment to change the chemical structure of the oil.

What is SōRSE Technology?

Based in Seattle WA, SōRSE Technology is the industry leader in developing water-soluble emulsion technologies. They apply their patent-pending emulsification technology to functional ingredients, like cannabinoids, to make them water-soluble to be seamlessly integrated into beverages, food, and personal care products.  Their emulsions come in liquid, powder, and agglomerated powder form.  Their technology is behind some of the top-selling infused beverages on the market, such as CANN Social Tonics and Mad Tasty.

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Who is Stacy and why should we trust her?

Stacy started a private event company specializing in cannabis infused cuisine called Elevated Fork back in 2017. Combining her passions for food, people and cannabis, she wanted to create something unique, educational, and eye opening for cannabis-infused fine dining. Her efforts and expertise has landed her a string of interview features in magazines and blogs (1, 2, 3, 4) and even a stint on the Netflix series Cooked with Cannabis. Stacy is currently working with SōRSE Technology as the Culinary Director. Her focus has been on curating several cookbooks using the cannabis emulsion that SōRSE has developed while also assisting the R&D team with prototype infused foods to test out new technologies. She plays a big part of demonstrating the versatility of SōRSE’s water-soluble cannabis products live at high profile industry events (High Times Magazine, Lemonhaze, MJBizCon, Arcview Group), competitions (Dope Cup Awards) and client events. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, most live events have been postponed or cancelled giving Stacy more time to respond to survey requests like ours! She has also been lending her expertise to the Customer Service and Sales teams at SōRSE.

The Interview

I asked Stacy a series of questions to help me understand how cannabis can be made water soluble.

The following are excerpts from the interview. Edits for clarification to Stacy’s answers are marked with square brackets.

Friendibles: Straight to it, how do you get an oil-loving cannabinoid to dissolve in water?

Stacy: … so this is a little misleading. Oils do not dissolve in water. This only changes if you are doing a chemical treatment to change the chemical structure of the oil. We are not doing that at SōRSE, and I would suggest that no one is doing that. When someone says they have an oil-based product that is water soluble, really it’s “dispersible.” We use emulsification theory coupled with appropriate surfactant chemistry, so that we get a dispersible material. There are some approaches where you can use a co-solvent, but most food and beverage companies do not want a co-solvent introduced, as it may not be considered “label friendly”.
At SōRSE, we put these oils [cannabinoids] in an environment with an appropriate surfactant, we apply energy [like heat or agitation] to make the oil particles small so they can be surrounded by the surfactant, and it’s the surfactant that keeps them small and [stable].

Friendibles: I picked out a couple of key terms from your answer that seem to be the heart of the misunderstanding from a normal person’s point of view. Putting oil into water is actually an emulsion, you’re not dissolving anything. And the more dispersible an oil is, the easier it is to create that emulsion. Additives called surfactants can be used to increase how dispersible the cannabinoid is. If any of our readers aren’t sure what an emulsion is, a common example is milk. Cow’s milk or soy milk, tiny droplets of fat are emulsified into water.

… beverages made with our emulsion tend to be relatively stable with regards to THC content over time (3 to 6 month timeframe).

Friendibles: Are some cannabinoids more dispersible than others? For example, which is easier to make dissolve into water, THC or CBD?

Stacy: It may make a difference for some of the water-soluble technologies out there, but [there is no difference for] SōRSE’s technology. It can be applied to all cannabinoids and oil-based ingredients. Whether it’s a liquid emulsion we’re making or a dry powder that we are reconstituting and reforming the emulsion, we find no difference between the various cannabinoids.

Friendibles: You mentioned that there are several ways to get cannabinoids to disperse into water, but SōRSE chose emulsification. Are there many different methods to make THC/CBD emulsions in the industry?

Stacy: We see a number of different approaches being taken that range from microsizing the oils to make physical dispersions; an example of that would be sonication. Another approach is to use a co-solvent such as propylene glycol that both the oils and the water have mutual solubility with. Then there are emulsions. There are various emulsification approaches that differ in terms of chemistry and process equipment. Each of these approaches have pros and cons. At SōRSE, we have chosen the path we’ve taken because we want to solve all the issues associated with water solubility, not just one or two of them.

Friendibles: I bet that the main issues are how easy it is to make, cost and quality of the product. I would be interested in getting into those details some other time, but for now I would like to keep the focus on the consumer side of things.

Many people are familiar with the concept of smoking cannabis and we’re starting to become more familiar with eating cannabis edibles.

Friendibles: But what about drinks? Is it easy to make my own cannabis emulsions at home straight from dried flower?

Stacy: If you care about repeatable and reliable “lift-off times” [on-set of the high], flavor profile, sensory, and duration of an experience, it’s actually very challenging. There are a number of issues that create the challenges. The main one is that cannabinoids are oil-based materials. For instance, if you’ve ever made a vinegar/oil-based vinaigrette at home by stirring them together, you will see that they will not evenly disperse within each other. As a result, the oil migrates to the top. This same thing can happen when you add a fat in a food or a beverage (especially). The concept of uniformity in your product is a real challenge.

Friendibles: Uniformity is a big area of focus for Friendibles as well. We’ve noticed that most baking and cooking recipes don’t require you to make perfectly well mixed batters. For normal baking, there’s no point. But for cannabis infused foods, you don’t want pockets of high dose and areas with nothing at all dotted around your dish. We solve this by having people make a cannabis emulsion with the Infuser bowl for every recipe. Although I didn’t know to call it that before this. Everything else you said makes it sound like you’re basically telling me not to try to make my own emulsion at home.

Friendibles: What is “lift-off time”?

Stacy: When we bring up absorption (meaning lift off or onset), the body processes water differently than oil-based materials. Your stomach tries to emulsify them [fats and oils], so the body can process it. The body is set up to filter out the oils that make it into the stomach. A classic example of this is not knowing when the effect of an edible is going to hit. After you ingest it, it moves from the stomach onto the liver before being eliminated from the body. When the liver starts to get overwhelmed, that’s when it starts dumping [THC] into your bloodstream. The time it takes for your liver to get overwhelmed is different from food to food and person to person and is why edibles can be so variable. Lastly, in terms of challenges, cannabinoids tend to be very bitter. The taste profile is not exactly pleasant, so in beverages, unless you are drinking something herbaceous, it will have a very bitter or earthy taste profile, which is not for everyone!

Friendibles: What would you expect to have a faster “lift-off time”, a cookie made with cannabutter, or a drink with a cannabis emulsion?

Stacy: [Cannabis emulsions] will give you a faster lift-off time than the [cannabutter].

Friendibles: Let’s talk about shelf life. If I’m making my own at home or going to the store to buy some, how long will a cannabis emulsion be good for?

Stacy: THC is known to degrade slowly over time. This can be augmented by the presence of water. Each cannabinoid has a different stability profile. If we’re talking about THC or CBD specifically, these are reasonably stable. THC has a known degradation path as it ages, [while] CBD level tends to increase [as it ages]. Certainly processing (ie. temperature exposure) can accelerate these deterioration rates. All that said, beverages made with our emulsion tend to be relatively stable with regards to THC content over time (3 to 6 month timeframe). There are a lot of other factors that influence stability over time, meaning other things that might be added to the beverage (like antioxidants, flavors, preservative systems).

Friendibles: Thank-you very much for your responses Stacy, your expertise is obvious and has certainly helped me understand what’s going on with “water soluble” cannabis. I’m certain that our readers will find these answers incredible informative also. If you have time, I have one last question, meant to be a bit fun.

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Friendibles: What’s the most creative use of dissolvable cannabis powder that you’ve seen?

Stacy: Flavored “snow” (incorporated into peanut butter powder or olive oil powder) [sprinkled over] desserts I’ve plated.

Friendibles: That sounds beautifully appetizing. I’ll have to see if I can find some pictures for the article!

End of Interview

There were a couple of things I had to look up after my interview with Stacy. Specifically, I was interested in co-solvents. It turns out this is a common tool in pharmaceuticals as well as food science. Typical co-solvents are ethanol, propylene glycol and glycerine. I definitely see how it can be off-putting to some people to see those listed in the ingredients. Honestly, I’m not always that vigilant. The other term I needed to know more about was sonication. Immediately it made me think of electric toothbrushes but I didn’t really see how it could translate to emulsifying cannabinoids into water. That’s not what I’m trying to do in my mouth with my toothbrush from what I understand. What I found said that sonication is when you use high frequency ultra-sound (>20 kHz) to blast liquids to break them into very tiny bubbles.

I’m made my own cannabis beverages at home before, but not my own emulsions. One of my favourites is Golden Turmeric Milk, but you need to like drinks that are rich, creamy and flavourful. My apologies to all the soda water purists. I know now that it works because I started with a ready-made emulsion, coconut milk. I don’t need to emulsify the infused coconut oil with anything special, it will join the natural emulsion of the coconut milk so that I end up with a gorgeous cannabis drink. Its best warm, but its also great cold. The winter spices work together to enrich my satisfaction of the season while the coconut milk base sends my mind to warmer climates, to that tropical Caribbean vacation where I can’t physically be right now. If you close your eyes as the relaxation spreads through your body, the warm glow from the fireplace could just as easily be the sun reflecting off gentle ocean waves. Clearly just the thought of Golden Turmeric Milk is distracting!

Conclusion

What I learned from this interview confirmed what I already knew about cannabinoids, they’re only dissolvable in fats and oils. If you want to get a fat or oil to disperse into water, you need to make an emulsion of tiny oil particles suspended in water. Cannabis emulsions will work faster than a regular edible, probably in part because your body doesn’t need to re-emulsify it and the oil particles are already very small for adsorption. If you want to make your own cannabis infused drinks at home, it will be very difficult to make an emulsion from scratch without access to the right tools and surfactant additives. I’m not sure about shelf life though. On one hand, it sounds like the water emulsion might accelerate the THC breakdown, however SōRSE’s emulsion is probably good for 3-6 months. I would recommend consuming any homemade treats and drinks promptly, before they go stale. Professional products like SōRSE’s emulsion have better packaging and more rigorous testing that my anecdotal testimony, so can back-up the effectiveness time frame.

 

copyright Friendibles 2021

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