If you’re looking to try trend du jour CBD (cannabidiol), the non-hallucinogenic chemical in marijuana, you’ve got a lot of options these days: the trendy ingredient is making its way into sparkling water, beer, candies, and even dog biscuits (okay, you probably won’t try the last one).
Companies big and small are hustling to take advantage of burgeoning consumer demand for CBD. Major beverage corporations like Molson Coors, Lagunitas, and Constellation Brands have all been developing drinks infused with the trendy ingredient. Even Coca-Cola is exploring ways to make use of CBD (though they won’t pull the trigger until the substance is legal throughout the U.S.).
“All of these [Big Food] companies are looking at it or at least talking to people about it,” said Jeremy Goldstein, co-founder and COO of Stillwater Brands, a company that makes cannabis edibles and drinkables. With good reason: Hemp Business Journal estimates that the CBD market is projected to grow by a whopping 700 percent by 2020, hitting $2.1 billion in sales. Greenwave Advisors, an independent research firm focused on the cannabis market, estimates CBD sales will hit almost $3 billion by 2021.
Based in Colorado, Stillwater’s products are targeted at a “new” sort of cannabis edibles consumer: someone who wants to experiment with marijuana in a way that’s safe, predictable, and consistent — and also tastes good. Everyone has had the experience where they ate too much and it “hit them like a ton of bricks,” said Goldstein. Their main product is Ripple, a tasteless, water-soluble powder that lets people turn “anything an edible,” according to Goldstein. By making Ripple water-soluble, Stillwater increased the speed of onset, so consumers will feel its full effects within 15 minutes and can decide whether or not they want to take more.
Thus far, all of Stillwater’s products have had at least some THC (the psychoactive element in cannabis) in them. But starting next year, Stillwater will launch an all-CBD version (less than .3 percent THC) of Ripple’s tasteless, odorless powder. And that’s where Stillwater’s business plan starts to get more interesting — and more complicated.
In order to make a CBD-only product, Goldstein told me they have to use a new facility that’s entirely separate from the one they use to make their products that contain THC. That’s because the regulatory framework is different depending on whether or not an edible contains THC and CBD, or CBD only; products that contain THC can only be made and sold in states where recreational marijuana is legal (as of now, that’s just 10 states plus D.C.), and you can only purchase them from a licensed dispensary.
The legality of CBD-only products, on the other hand, is very murky. The FDA recently approved a purified form of CBD as a treatment for certain seizure disorders, but they haven’t investigated it in a recreational context — which means it’s illegal on a federal level. Nonetheless, plenty of companies still ship CBD products, from fruit beverages to mango-chili chocolates, across state lines. As of now, there haven’t been any legal repercussions for these companies, but some, like Dirty Lemon, are backing away from the space, wary of liability issues.
Stillwater is already selling their water-soluble CBD product wholesale. Their B2B ingredients business, Stillwater Ingredients, currently provides CBD to two major food manufacturers and “five to ten” smaller clients in the U.S. (Goldstein didn’t disclose exact numbers), and also partners with a major Canadian cannabis company.
Like many other companies that make cannabis edibles (or drinkables), Stillwater frames their products as wellness tools — not party drugs. That stance goes double for products with just CBD, which many believe it has anti-inflammatory and calming effects (though it hasn’t yet been tested by the FDA).
Entering the wellness industry is a smart move: the global market is estimated to be around $4.2 trillion. By marketing their edibles as wellness tools, almost like vitamins, Stillwater can also capture a wider range of consumers than traditional “stoners.” According to Goldstein, their target demographic is anyone who might use a sleep aid, struggle with anxiety, or have difficulty focusing at work. In short: pretty much everyone.
If the 2018 Farm Bill, which is reportedly nearing the finish line, passes, Stillwater might soon be serving a lot more of these consumers. The bill would legalize sales of hemp-derived CBD nationwide, opening the floodgates for the cannabidiol market and bringing many more players, wholesale and otherwise, to the table. It could even pave the way for Big Food to release CBD-infused products. Until then, come next year, you can use Stillwater’s Ripple to edible-ize anything your heart desires, from apple juice to zucchini bread.