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If you’ve ever eaten a THC-infused cookie or candy, chances are you’ve had an “I don’t feel anything,” moment, followed by eating more and the later “Oh crap” moment when you realized you overdid it. The 45-60 minute onset time of classic edibles makes it notoriously tricky to figure out dosage, and the long-lasting effects pose another set of challenges, from potentially oversleeping to navigating a party when you’re so high you suspect other people can hear your thoughts. And of course it can get worse than that. A 2015 study in Colorado showed that edibles were responsible for the majority of emergency room visits by people who thought they were “overdosing” on cannabis. This is no doubt due to the delayed onset, which results because edibles must be absorbed through the digestive track and metabolized by the liver before they reach the brain and make you high.

Fast-acting 1906 Drops

But the paradigm is shifting. In the past two years, several brands have unveiled fast-acting consumables, ranging from the expected gummies to Kiva’s THC-infused gravy mix. 1906 is making a series of “drops,” or pills, that fuse fast-acting THC and CBD with everything from caffeine to “herbal aphrodisiacs.” And Wana Brands has unveiled what their VP of Innovation Mike Hennesy calls the “first fast-acting edibles to deliver a smoker’s high.” Hennesy is alluding to their technology, which produces Delta-9-THC instead of the metabolite 11-OH-THC like that of a classic edible. These fast-acting gummies have an onset time of five to fifteen minutes and only last three hours. So how does this work?

“It feels a lot more like smoking. Less lethargic, more of a cerebral experience like inhaled cannabis.”

“It feels a lot more like smoking. Less lethargic, more of a cerebral experience like inhaled cannabis,” says Hennesy. To achieve this effect, Wana looked into encapsulation methods and ended up going with a technology developed by Azuca. The goal of TiME (Thermodynamic Individual Molecular Encapsulation) is to encapsulate the cannabis molecule, thereby tricking the body into processing it more quickly. “It’s like a Trojan horse,” Hennesy explains, “something that disguises it. Your body no longer sees it as a cannabis oil.” Instead, the cannabinoids bypass the liver and enter the bloodstream almost immediately.

To get further insight into the array of fast-acting edibles now available, we spoke with Drew Hathaway, the senior food scientist for Stillwater, an early adapter of fast-acting technologies, which delivered its Ripple product to the market in 2018. Strictly speaking, Ripple is a dissolvable, not an edible, but the company has since used its water soluble technology in gummies, which have an onset time of about 15 minutes. Hathaway stresses that the quick onset is not the only advantage to their emulsification technology, which also creates greater bioavailability.

To confirm their supposition that emulsification technology would allow the body to more effectively absorb cannabinoids, Stillwater partnered with Colorado State University to conduct human trials. The results were astounding. “With our water soluble CBD powder, which is identical technology to Ripple, we saw 450% higher total absorption rate of those cannabinoids in the bloodstream than the standard oil-based product that we used as a control,” Hathaway says. “I really think the faster onset and the higher total bioavailability of these products will be their biggest value proposition in the long run. And I think as consumers become more educated they’ll understand that’s a massive advantage over your standard oil-based product.” 

It does seem likely that fast-acting edibles and beverages are the cannabis products that will finally reach truly mainstream audiences, the consumers who are turned off by the stigma of smoking and vaping yet intimidated by the slow onset time and long-lasting effect of traditional edibles. And, for better of worse, the timing is right. As people attempt to cope with the stress of the pandemic and other upheaval, dispensaries across the United States have reported increased sales to first time consumers and increased sales of edibles. It’s a no-brainer that fast-acting edibles will be top sellers with the cannacurious.

Wana’s VP of innovation certainly thinks so. “I really think this is just the start of what we’re seeing with the quick onset products,” Hennesy said. “I think it’s going to become a huge product line for the business and a game changer for a lot of people.”