Delivery systems for cannabis are trending away from smokable flower products to edibles, concentrates, topicals, beverages, sprays, tinctures and other products that are infused with extractions from – or derived from extractions themselves – with more specific dosage and strain expectations.
Why ditch flower? The growing cannabis consumer market today wants more control over their experience, and manufacturers are responding. There is a quiet evolution going on.
The delivery trend is actually in two areas: stronger product for the experienced consumer, in a smoked, eaten, dabbed or vapable form; and a faster-acting controllable product for the less experienced customer, in part because they are consuming it for medical purposes but also because they just don’t want to get too high for too long.
Flower and hash is available at most dispensaries where recreational cannabis is legalized. Most cannabis consumers also know the usual concentrate, powder and infused-edibles suspects: shatters, waxes, bubble hash, oils, budder, kief, tinctures plus a wide assortment of candies, gummies and baked goods.
For the experienced cannabis consumer, there are interesting developments of stronger, purer THC or CBD products, such as distillates. These pure concentrates are derived by distilling cannabis oil extracted from the cannabis plant.
Also on the get-you-higher spectrum is live resin, becoming more available as more dispensaries begin to carry it. Here, live flower is harvested, then while still ‘live’, is flash frozen before going through a butane extraction process. Both are finding a growing consumer base.
Focusing on the Consumer
Right now, producers are concentrating on the newer consumer – first-timers entering the industry who generally don’t prefer to dab or otherwise smoke the product, sometimes for health reasons and other times just for the discretion of being able to consumer anywhere, anytime.
And they are a little nervous about edibles because they have heard about people eating one, then another, then another – and not handling the overwhelming experience.
Topicals and salves – some CBD only, some CBD/THC hybrids – are rocketing to the attention of consumers for two reasons: a sizable chunk of new consumers are seniors who have aches and pains that a topical can help them with, and, topicals don’t break the blood/skin barrier, meaning any consumer using a topical won’t test positive for THC.
But for those newcomers wanting a controllable total cannabis experience beyond skin treatments, manufacturers are focusing their attention on more direct routes to the blood stream – avoiding the gut, where delays between ingestion and reaction can vary widely.
These include cannabis-infused trans-mucosal products that are applied directly to the body’s mucosal areas where blood vessels are right on the surface – a drop of tincture under the tongue called a sublingual; a slow-dissolve patch between the cheek and gum; a spray of cannabis-infused product into the nose; or a cannabis-infused suppository inserted into the rectum or vagina.
So, What’s Next?
“Edibles and beverages tend to dominate the market today because that is the way consumers are used to consuming,” Peter Barsoom, CEO and founder of the Colorado edibles company1906 said at a recent Marijuana Business conference in New Orleans in May. “But that is changing. Our view is that the market is more interested with who the consumers aren’t today versus who the consumers are today.” The fear of edibles is real, he said, and “is a big barrier to entry for consumers.”
“We think that people want to titrate and control when the effect comes on and when it peaks and when it ends,” he said. Barsoom’s company has developed ‘fast-acting’ edibles, so named because the company’s encapsulation process allows ingested edibles to bypass the stomach and get to the small intestine faster. “We think that ‘fast-acting’ is a core tenet of what consumers ought to demand, what consumers will demand and what producers ought to deliver,” Barsoom said. “So we think that impatience, not patience, is a virtue.”
As the consumer market expands, there are going to be more sophisticated consumers, Barsoom said. “It is no longer about the guy with $25 looking to get as stoned as possible. So consumers are demanding this delivery innovation and producers are delivering this innovation.”
As industry producers, he said, they need to learn from other industries, like the pharmaceutical industry that has spent billions of dollars understanding drug delivery. “I think, more and more, we as industry leaders need to be as thoughtful about this as other industries.”
High tech delivery methods borrowed from the pharmaceutical industry are being introduced to the cannabis industry. NanoSphere Health Sciences, for example, uses nano technology to delivery THC directly to the blood stream via transdermal serum.
Other cannabis delivery methods could include using laser technology for directed treatment of cancer cells in the brain, or for reducing inflammation in neuromuscular tissues, as imagined by Dr. Matthew Burnett working in Legacy Medical Centers in western Pennsylvania.
“The future of cannabis delivery is going to get more scientific,” Dot Colagiovanni, vice president of product development for Next Frontier Biosciences, said. “Customers want it real specific, they want it doseable, they want to be able to microdose. And that really lends itself to more pharmaceutical grade products.”
What’s next? There are cannabis-infused eye-drops being formulated. And there has been some loose but lively talk (read: Lagunitas’ founder Tony Magee) about cannabis-infused hairspray, moisturizer, toothpaste and even steak seasoning. There is even powdered concentrated THC that you can sprinkle on your morning toast or stir into your morning coffee.
Mowgli Holmes, a molecular and evolutionary biologist, and co-founder of Phylos Bioscience in Portland, Oregon, said he heard of a company developing an injectable form of THC (it was turned down by a Denver dispensary). “Cannabis research is advancing delivery technologies across the boards,” he said. “Cannabis has already adopted every major delivery system for every other drug – like transdermals and sublingual sprays. Just as the cannabis growing technology is pushing the limits of agriculture technology and advancing the use of LED lights for farmers, I think we are witnessing that cannabis companies are getting so creative in delivery systems that they are going to inspire the rest of the pharmaceutical world.”