Since Keith Woelfel got into the cannabis sector five years ago, there’s been one thing that’s consistently bewildered him about the industry. Something that he’s trying to change from within.
“It’s always surprised me how bold the claims are, in general, and how thin the science behind them is,” Woelfel, the director of research and development at Caliper Foods and Stillwater Foods in Broomfield, says.
Because of cannabis’ status as a Schedule I substance, doing research on it has been a legally challenging ordeal — even in states like Colorado — which has led to a lot of unsubstantiated allegations about THC and CBD products around the country. To a scientist like Woelfel, a lack of rigorous scientific research seemed like a glaring issue for both cannabis businesses and consumers.
So Woelfel and his team of researchers at Stillwater and Caliper Foods put their new product Ripple, a line of THC and CBD beverages and dissolvables that utilize water-soluble cannabinoids instead of the more traditional fat-soluble ones, through rigorous scientific clinical tests. Their research has shown that water-soluble cannabinoids actually deliver THC and CBD faster and more consistently than almost any other form of edible. It’s new and very functional information they’re producing about how our bodies absorb those cannabinoids — a science called pharmacokinetics.
“We started five years ago with the premise that cannabis can be a functional food,” Woelfel says. “And in order to make it a functional food, we needed to make it water-soluble.”
That meant making cannabinoids that could be dissolved in the body by water — unlike fat-soluble cannabinoids, which are dissolved in fat globules within the body.
Stillwater Foods’ first pharmacokinetic study on its water-soluble cannabinoid technology was with THC in 2018. Woelfel heard anecdotally from Ripple customers that its cannabis beverages and dissolvables had a notably faster and smoother onset than traditional edibles. Naturally, Woelfel and his team of scientists decided to put that to the test — for their own knowledge, but also for the benefit of their customers.
At random, they selected five test subjects between the ages of 21 and 50, ranging from “light” to “heavy” users. On an empty stomach, the subjects were given 10 mgs of THC delivered via a Ripple dissolvable packet, and had their blood drawn at zero, 15, 30, 60, 90 and 120 minutes. None of them had used cannabis for five days prior to allow for a “wash-out” period for their blood. After testing, blood samples were sent out and analyzed.
“We were really happy to see that [THC] was getting into the bloodstream within 10, 15 minutes time — as fast as water,” Woelfel says. “It’s getting absorbed almost immediately from the small intestine directly into the bloodstream.”
Not only does a user’s high start faster with Ripple’s water-soluble edibles, but cannabinoids also peak faster in the subjects’ bloodstreams, Woelfel adds — typically just one hour after consumption. Compared to the two to three hours it can take traditional fat-soluble edibles to peak in the bloodstream, that’s considerably faster.
Woelfel calls it “the ripple effect.”
In the conclusion of that first pharmacokinetics study, the researchers say that further studies are needed to dig deeper into this rapid absorption phenomenon. There is almost no scientific literature on this at the moment, since it’s such a new area of study.
“That [first study] really kicked off a series of learnings and now we are on our fourth pharmacokinetic study,” Woelfel says. “Each one gets better, more sophisticated and broader in scope, both in the CBD space and also in the THC space.”
The most recent two of those studies have yet to be published, but the second appeared in the January 2021 issue of Pharmaceuticals. It was focused on the pharmacokinetics of five different CBD products, and examined whether or not CBD might affect a person’s resting heart rate.
“We are a very strong science-based company,” Woelfel says. “And we have been from day one.”