This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
A couple years from now, the concept of “grabbing a drink” in Canada may have nothing to do with alcohol.
That’s because cannabis companies are investing heavily in THC and CBD infused beverages, and one biotechnology research company claims it has the technology to create the ideal cannabis drink.
Weed edibles in Canada aren’t going to be legal for another year at least—but when that time comes, many predict edibles will eat up a huge chunk of the recreational market. A Deloitte report from June found that six out of ten consumers are expected to choose edible cannabis products. In August, Constellation Brands, home of Corona beer, announced it was investing $5 billion [$4 billion USD] in Canadian licensed producer Canopy, while Molson Coors Canada is partnering with Quebec LP Hydropothecary Corporation to develop cannabis drinks. Coca-Cola is also in talks with Aurora Cannabis to produce CBD-based beverages. Suffice to say, the claim that weed drinks are the future of cannabis consumption is more than just talk.
But Ronan Levy, Chief Strategy Officer at Trait Biosciences, a biotechnology research company, told VICE there are some major concerns about edibles, particularly as they pertain to drinks. One of the main ones is the length of time it takes edibles to kick in—it’s sometimes hours before people begin to feel the effects. The reason for that, Levy said, is cannabinoids are fat soluble, so they dissolve into fat and oil. They have to travel to the large intestine to be properly digested, which is why it takes so much time for the psychoactive effects to kick in. Alcohol, on the other hand, is water soluble, which is why people feel a glass of wine or a beer within 30 minutes.
According to Levy, Trait has discovered a way to make cannabinoids water soluble and he believes it will dramatically shift the industry.
Dr. Richard Sayre, Trait’s chief scientific officer who is based out of New Mexico, told VICE the company has developed two primary methods of making cannabinoids water soluble by adding a sugar molecule to the cannabinoid.
One method, he referred to Trait’s “super producer technology,” which increases the yield of water-soluble, nontoxic cannabinoids in plants. It essentially makes more of the plant usable.
“We feed the cannabinoids to what’s called a plant cell suspension culture,” Sayre explained. “What you can do is take the individual cells of a plant apart from each other and grow them in liquid as single cells… These plant cells naturally can add the sugar to the cannabinoids without any modification.”
The other option is taking fat soluble cannabis extract—such as the oils that are already being sold by LPs—and feeding them a yeast that’s been engineered to make them water soluble.
Sayre said Trait is currently pursuing both avenues.
Fat-soluble cannabinoids “partition and separate out of the water solutions and you end up with something like salad dressing,” Sayre said, which does not make for a very marketable drink. It also has dosage issues because the THC may not be spread out evenly.
So, in layman’s terms, what does all of this potentially mean for a consumer?
According to Trait, if water-soluble cannabinoids make it to market, people will be able to have edibles with either a quick onset or a delayed onset (the latter could be used in pharmaceuticals, akin to slow release pain meds). The taste and smell of cannabinoids will be reduced, meaning tastier edibles. And you won’t have to deal with the separation or “salad dressing” type of effect that comes with fat-soluble cannabinoids.
Sayre also said he expects CBD drinks to compete with Gatorade and other sports drinks because they “not only rehydrate you but make all the aches and pains less.”
Trait is currently in the research and development phase—it raised received $12.5 million [$9.6 million USD] in seed financing.
Sayre said the company is currently doing performance trials on animals and humans which will take one to one and a half years to complete. It is also moving toward commercial-scale production which is about a year off.
The money raised will also go toward building a state of the art research facility in Toronto.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.