The cannabinoid revolution is coming – and fermentation is the catalyst

April 20, 2021 |

By Roy Lipski, Co-founder & CEO of Creo

Special to The Digest

It’s clear that science and technology are spurring some of the biggest changes happening across industry today. And the innovation-driven revolution happening in the emerging cannabinoids sector could have far reaching effects. Cannabinoids themselves, while still underexplored, are powerful and diverse substances. But it’s a unique process for producing them that will truly propel them onto centerstage.

When most people hear the term cannabinoids they think of the most famous (and hyped) variants, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). But reducing the vast cannabinoid family to two molecules narrows our view of what cannabinoids really are—and the universe of possibilities they contain. There are more than 100 other cannabinoids found in nature, all much rarer than THC and CBD, including Cannabinol (CBN) and Cannabigerol (CBG).

To grasp the full scope of their potential, we have to understand that woven into the human body there is a system of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors that, together, are called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The cannabinoid receptors are located in the brain, nervous system, skin, immune cells, bone, fat tissue, blood vessels as well as in various organs. The role the ECS plays in our life is vast, as it is involved in the regulation of pain, stress, inflammation, appetite, energy, cardiovascular function, reward, sleep and other processes.

The key to this series of physiological gateways are the cannabinoids themselves, which could have multiple potential applications across several categories, from food and beverage to beauty, health, wellness and therapeutics. It seems that, given all this, widespread cannabinoid use would be a proverbial no-brainer. So, why haven’t we exploited this family of invaluable—and remarkably safe—compounds?

Hemp / cannabis plant production roadblocks

One reason is simple: until now, the production of the hemp plant and its cousin cannabis, which contain cannabinoids, has been widely prohibited by government regulation. This is not true just in the US, but around the world. Therefore, whatever research that has been done into these compounds has been very limited as compared to their potential. The somewhat dismaying reality is that cultural and political considerations have blocked the progress of a major field of potential scientific inquiry.

But we’ve also had to face a high physiological hurdle. The natural plant supply of these compounds is skewed towards just 2 cannabinoids, CBD and THC, all the others are produced only in small amounts. And when extracted, the cost is high, both financially but also environmentally.

A Colorado State University study found the emissions of indoor cannabis cultivation to be a whopping 5,184 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of dried flower. Outdoor and greenhouse cultivation is significantly better, but still high at up to 326.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

The fermentation solution

Exploring and, eventually, exploiting the full array of cannabinoids requires a scalable, cost effective way of producing them. This is where fermentation comes into the picture, serving as the enabler of the coming cannabinoid revolution.

For starters, fermentation bypasses most of the thorniest regulatory issues. By producing cannabinoids without any plant material, manufacturers no longer have to grapple with the highly problematic process of growing cannabis without exceeding government-limited percentages of THC. This development alone stands to unleash the full power of cannabinoids as, for the first time, full, unfettered research of cannabinoids is no longer a dreamed-of possibility but an immediate reality.

But fermentation of cannabinoids presents far greater benefits than just regulatory compliance. Instead, they allow us to leap the chasm between scientific research and market supply. The reason is that cannabinoids produced through fermentation allow us to meet every major criteria of a robust ingredient supply chain—namely, consistency, scalability, purity and assured potency.

With correct fermentation processes, we can control each of these considerations to a high degree of precision. Not only that, through fermentation we can measure our effectiveness—and provide proper documentation to regulatory bodies as well as to companies along the supply chain. This is groundbreaking.

The work and challenges ahead

There’s still work to do though, not least of which is a deep dive into the science of cannabinoids to develop a more complete understanding of their properties and potential applications. Beyond that, we need to start thinking now about the market—and any corresponding obstacles that need to be overcome.

And then there will be the plain but not so simple task of manufacturing cannabinoids to meet demand. Companies like mine are busy working to perfect this process. And as we do so, we will be kept busy as demand grows exponentially in the coming years.

But our greatest challenge will be introducing cannabinoids into the mainstream. With consumers ignorant at best, and skeptical at worst, of cannabinoids and the real value they offer, we have to win over hearts and minds with intelligent communication that highlights just how well cannabinoids satisfy the most pressing of today’s consumer’s needs. Only then will we begin to see just how transformative this revolution can really be.

Roy Lipski is Co-founder & CEO of Creo, an ingredient company with a proprietary platform for producing natural cannabinoids via biosynthesis.


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