Russell Thomas stared down an obstacle in recreational cannabis beverages that no one else seemed to be able to get around: THC beverages took 30 minutes to a full hour to start to kick in. Even the fastest-acting THC beverages, using the most cutting-edge edible technology, could only shave that onset time down to around 15 to 20 minutes.
It wasn’t even close to working as fast as a shot of alcohol—and to Thomas that was clearly holding back the potential of THC beverages.
“Alcohol is popular because you go to a bar, you take a shot of it, you start to get drunk,” Thomas says. “Imagine if it took a half-an-hour, forty-five minutes, or even an hour to feel that same shot. It would be the end of social drinking as we know it.”
He points out that the biggest investments in cannabis have been from liquor companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev, Pabst Brewing Company, and Constellation Brands—huge corporations pumping money into THC beverages. And yet, it’s one of the smallest parts of the recreational cannabis market. They simply take too long to take effect, Thomas says.
With a background in science and engineering, Thomas saw that hurdle as an opportunity. And the solution he designed around it could change how rapidly cannabis and many other drugs are delivered into the body. Through the process of ionization, Thomas and his company LifeTonic have created an ultra-fast-onset cannabis beverage product.
“We developed a cannabis beverage that you feel, quite literally, in under five minutes,” he says.
On its own, without any modification, the THC molecule is water-insoluble. It’s what makes traditional edibles take so long to kick in: Because THC molecules don’t dissolve in water, only in fat, they must pass through the liver to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Nano-emulsion was the first leap in THC technology to bypass that problem. This process traps the THC molecules in an emulsion, suspending them in microscopic water-soluble oil globules which the body can absorb more directly—and far more quickly. Instead of waiting 30 minutes to an hour to feel the onset of their high, users consuming emulsified THC only have to wait 15 to 20 minutes.
Still, Thomas thought it could be done faster. Because in an emulsion each THC molecule is encased in so many individual oil molecules, its absorption speed is more limited than it needs to be, he explains.
“Each [nanoemulsified] droplet contains anywhere from five hundred to several thousand [oil] molecules. So it’s actually quite big,” Thomas says. That limits the points of contact with the emulsified nano-globules.
By contrast, LifeTonic’s ionized plant compounds act more like salts rather than oils, which dissolve exponentially faster in water—without an emulsifier. Thomas explains that instead of being encased in hundreds of oil molecules, ionized THC dissolves directly in water, evenly coating the body’s digestive system with single molecules of THC instead of clumped globules of oil.
The result is a THC beverage that hits you in under five minutes, and a CBD beverage that does so in under three. And on top of all that, Thomas discovered an exciting feature of his ionized plant based substances: They change color. By mixing the solution with water and a light acid (like carbonated water or lime juice) the color instantly changes from a vibrant purple to a bright yellow color.
“It was a really cool surprise when we discovered that chemical reaction,” Thomas says.
Finally, there are cannabis beverages that work nearly as fast as alcoholic ones. This could drastically change the popularity of THC beverages, and the ways in which they’re consumed. Which is exactly Thomas’ hope.
Although LifeTonic is a Boulder-based company, it’s first launching the water-soluble ionized cannabis beverages in Nevada. Eventually, Thomas says he plans on distributing in Colorado as well. He’s got even higher hopes, too—to eventually license out some of LifeTonic’s many, many patents to other cannabis companies, and even to drug companies beyond the cannabis industry.
“This is a drug delivery technology that we’ve made,” Thomas says. “We’re up in the fifties for granted and pending patents for this subject matter. We don’t mess around with IP.”