What does the future hold for CBD?

8 Jan 2019

Products containing cannabis ingredients have started to take off in the United States, but there are still major barriers to their success – and even more so in Europe.

What does the future hold for CBD?

Hemp-derived ingredients such as seeds and protein powders have already been used for years, but 2018 saw the rise of CBD oil, a non-hallucinogenic product of the cannabis plant said to be beneficial for pain relief in particular. So far, researchers have not proven its efficacy, but CBD has attracted celebrity endorsements and plenty of consumers swear by it to relieve everything from joint inflammation to insomnia and depression.

According to SPINS data, the US market for foods and drinks containing hemp ingredients has surged 44% to reach nearly $130 million in a category that barely existed five years ago. In the European Union, many countries lifted bans on growing hemp in the 1990s, and about 81,000 acres of hemp were grown across the region in 2016, according to the latest EU figures. That is about four times as much as was grown in the US in 2017. In both regions, hemp ingredients like seeds, seed protein, flours and oils already appear in a wide range of products, including non-dairy milk, cereal, bread, snacks, pasta, flour and vegetarian burgers.

Interest in CBD piggybacks on the burgeoning hemp ingredients market, but it breaks new ground. Aside from unresolved questions about its potential benefits, CBD is still technically illegal in foods and drinks under both European and US federal law. The growing industry is a result of different interpretations of various state laws, meaning that despite its growing presence at trade shows, at some beverage retail outlets and within culinary circles, use of CBD is highly fragmented. Most sales occur in a handful of US states with more relaxed laws on cannabis use in general, especially California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. In Europe, CBD oil requires novel foods approval, and currently, there is one ongoing application from Czech company Cannabis Pharma for the use of the oil in supplements.

Nevertheless, CBD oil and other cannabis ingredients are on the radar for some major food and drink companies, including Coca-Cola, which has discussed making cannabis-infused beverages with a Canadian supplier, Aurora Cannabis. Heineken-owned Lagunitas Brewing has developed an IPA brewed with cannabis terpenes, the plant’s flavour-giving compounds, while AB InBev has also announced a $100 million investment in cannabis-infused non-alcoholic beverages in partnership with grower and distributor Tilray.

This rising interest from manufacturers, retailers and consumers is likely to put pressure on regulators to take a position regarding the use of CBD oil sooner rather than later, and a decision on whether it will qualify as a novel food ingredient could trigger applications for CBD in foods and drinks in Europe. Until it gains official approval, however, the current high enjoyed by CBD-infused products is likely to be limited.

Companies mentioned