One of the newest cannabidiol (CBD) products on the market are CBD-infused beverages, according to Golden, Colorado-based Panacea Life Sciences. The infused beverage sector is anticipated to exceed $2.8B in the U.S. by 2025, and there are over 1,000 products available for purchase online today.
In fact, major manufacturers such as Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever, Coca-Cola and Anheuser Busch have announced they are developing CBD products, with retailers like Walgreens, Kroger and CVS vowing to sell these products when available. The delay in known brands to enter the CBD market is in large part due to legality issues with infused beverages but also quality control issues that need to be remedied. Additionally, while these products theoretically offer a convenient way to add CBD to the diet, infused beverages are much more expensive per milligram of CBD than other cannabidiol products.
Breaking down the cost
Within the infused beverage category there is considerable diversity, from CBD-infused water, teas, coffees, sodas and recovery drinks, to alcoholic drinks such as beers and wines. CBD-infused beverages command a premium price, both in terms of the class of products (e.g. bottled water) but also in terms of evaluating per quantity of CBD in the product.
While the price per milligram of CBD in infused products will range greatly, edible products average 7.5 cents per mg of CBD. As a class, infused beverages are much more expensive than other CBD products per milligram of CBD, as shown in the table below. Infused waters may cost $5.99 with 5 milligrams of CBD included for a whopping $1.20 per milligram. CBD-infused sodas or elixirs seem to be more reasonably priced, with an average retail price of $0.50 per milligram of CBD. CBD-infused teas and coffee prices range based on how these are sold, either as leaves, beans or finished beverages, but average the best value in the infused beverage class at 22 cents per milligram of CBD.
CBD beers not only contain a premium price on a per beer basis but on the CBD per milligram ratio as well, averaging 68 cents per milligram. However, evaluating an alcoholic beverage by the CBD content may not be the right move; instead, it may be better to compare its value against a similar quality of beer rather than the novel CBD component.
Legality of CBD-infused foods and beverages
While CBD products have been deemed legal through the passing of the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act (or the Farm Bill), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to provide clear regulatory guidelines for CBD products, including infused beverages, and is currently evaluating safety data to determine serving sizes as well as other potential issues. For now, the FDA has consistently stated that it is illegal to use CBD as a food ingredient without further guidance.
Consequently, in December 2019, the FDA sent warning letters to 15 companies marketing CBD-infused products saying these companies violated the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act by illegally selling food and beverage products containing CBD. Note that several states, such as Colorado, will allow CBD-infused products, including beverages, to be manufactured and sold as retail products. Other states, such as Washington, follow the FDA guidelines regarding the permissibility of CBD-infused foods and beverages.
The confusion surrounding the state versus federal guidelines are certainly frustrating, but there are initiatives within the FDA and Congress to provide consistent guidelines regarding this product category. They may take a note from the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency, which has approved CBD as a novel food ingredient with serving sizes recommended at 75 milligrams per day. Until the U.S. FDA provides clear guidance, retailers are advised to evaluate state laws and regulations regarding CBD-infused food products in the states in which they are located to ensure compliance.
Are you really getting what you paid for?
Quality remains a large issue with CBD-infused water beverages. Cannabidiol is a hydrophobic molecule, meaning it is readily soluble in oils but not in water.
There are techniques that can be used to increase the amount of CBD that can be infused in a beverage, essentially forming stable emulsions of CBD in such solutions. Accordingly, manufacturers will either use shearing technology to create “nano” droplets or use surfactants to help the CBD stay in the solution. Regardless of the technology used, the amount of CBD that can be stably infused into a water-based solution is going to be relatively low. For this reason, liquids that contain oils or alcohol, like teas, coffees and beer, may provide better solubility.
Because of the varying technology used to infuse CBD into water as well as the chemical-altering packaging used for these products, quality control is rightfully a major concern. For these reasons, independent consumer protection groups, such as Testing by Brian, will obtain commercial products from stores and evaluate the cannabinoid content compared to the label claims. As shown in the table below, using sparkling water, soda and water as product samples, the amount of CBD in the solution is far less than what their labels claim. When six bottles from the same batch of CBD water were evaluated, four of the six had meager amounts of CBD, with two having just 50 percent of the CBD asserted on the label.
The consistently low levels of CBD in this class of products may be due to insufficient CBD solubilization, but it is also possible that the CBD can bind to the plastic packaging or plastic liner in cans. The inter-batch variability in CBD waters is most likely due to the solubilization technique used in the formulation of the specific CBD product. Products packaged in glass may have better reproducibility for CBD content, but this theory has not yet been consistently evaluated.
Admittedly, there are significant issues with the CBD-infused beverage market, but with time, consistent guidance from the FDA, reliable pricing and attention to quality-control, this will surely be a provocative and burgeoning product.