If you have ever indulged in a cannabis beverage, then you’ve consumed an emulsion! In fact, as long as you generally buy food at a grocery store, you consume emulsions all of the time. Emulsification, or the process of making an emulsion, put simply is a way of mixing oil and water. Mayonnaise is the classic emulsion example: in order to mix oil and water, egg white is used as an “emulsifier”.
When the cannabis plant has been extracted and isolated down to it’s bare bones, the cannabinoids and terpenes, the end result is quite oily. Beverages are meant to quench thirst, so they’re predominantly water based. So to blend the two, we need an emulsifier! But egg whites probably isn’t the move…
Emulsifiers in Every Day Use
Enter emulsifiers, or products you add to help your delicious cannabis extracts dissolve in water. Emulsifiers are actually found everywhere in the food and beverage market. They can be naturally derived like soy lecithin, or synthetic like polysorbates. The list of emulsifiers (and more generally “additives“) hiding in every day foods is quite lengthy. If it’s on the official list of ingredients, it’s been approved for consumption by the FDA.
In the culinary arts, there are three main types of emulsions: temporary, semi-permanent, and permanent. Mayonnaise is an example of a permanent emulsion. That salad dressing that still needs shaking every time you use it is a temporary emulsion. In the case of cannabis beverages, some claim that the success of the entire cannabis beverage market relies on emulsions.
Creating Successful Emulsions
Properly emulsified cannabis beverages will infuse cannabinoids and terpenes uniformly. Although this can be challenging, it’s important to ensure consistent delivery of cannabis extract. If someone wanted 5 mg of THC for example, they should actually be able to consume half of a 10 mg THC cannabis beverage without risking over consumption.
When creating a successful emulsion, the chemistry will play the largest role in the shelf stability. Not only is it important to establish a permanent emulsion, but the stage in the process where the emulsification is made is also important. There are a number of ways to “break” an emulsion, such as with salt, change in pH, shear stress, temperature changes, etc. It’s important that the emulsifier chosen can handle the remaining steps in the process.
Say you wanted a particularly sour beer infused with cannabis extract, someday in the beautiful future when that’s legal. You would need to pay special attention to the fact that sour beers are low in pH, so a cannabis emulsifier would need to withstand those conditions.
Hopefully this plants some seeds if you’re interested in making some of your own infused products. The list of potential emulsifiers is quite lengthy, and there are a number of considerations before choosing the right one for your needs. Some don’t mask flavor well, but create beautifully stable emulsions. Others may actually taste great (or not at all) but have a pretty short shelf life (temporary emulsion).
Acidic and Neutral Cannabinoid Solubilities Differ
One final important note is that the solubility of cannabinoids in water depends on whether they are in their acidic or neutral form. Since the plant produces cannabinoids in their acidic form, they are naturally soluble in water. However, once they are “activated” they are no longer water soluble.
THCA for example, is grown by the cannabis plant and is non-psychoactive. Not until THCA is converted to THC does it become psychoactive, which is done by decarboxylation. Check out our blog on the history of decarboxylation for more info on that topic, and add questions or comments below!