UBCO professor takes advantage of legalization to research possibilities of cannabis beverages

Cannabis users could soon be able to drink their substance of choice as easily as they can buy a beer, thanks to a UBC Okanagan (UBCO) researcher’s latest collaboration.

Dr. Susan Murch, a UBCO associate professor of plant chemistry, is researching the shelf-life and stability formulation of cannabis in different edible formats — including beverages — in partnership with Dr. Paula Brown at BCIT and Pacific Rim Brands. Pacific Rim, a Kelowna-based company that works on developing cannabis products for the consumer market, is targeting the health and wellness, sports nutrient and recreational consumer segments.

“The question that we are addressing with [Pacific Rim] is how do you make high-quality cannabis products for [the] modern Canadian market?” said Murch, who also researches the differences in chemical compositions and effects of different strains of cannabis. “We know very little about how those products will behave in what is a now consumer market.”

While recreational cannabis was legalized in Canada on October 17 — making it the second country worldwide to do so, after Uruguay — cannabis consumer products, or edibles, are not expected to be available until October 2019 at the earliest. According to Murch, the sheer diversity of cannabis products and formulations that exist means determining how to safely produce, transport and distribute these products is an unknown challenge.

“How long will [the products] last on the shelf? Do they need to be refrigerated? Do they need to be stored at a certain temperature?” said Murch, noting that exposure to light and prolonged warm temperatures during transport are also factors to be considered.

“Those kinds of issues are really all quite new.”

In liquid cannabis formats, these questions get even more complicated. Many of the impacts of interactions between cannabis and other beverage ingredients are still unknown, as is how to best standardize the amount of active cannabis ingredients in different formats.

“When you get into more complex forms, where you’re making an extract or you’re formulating an extract with other ingredients, some of the ingredients interact — and sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s a bad thing,” said Murch.

She also acknowledged that beverages may have the potential to deliver certain effects of cannabis — like reducing inflammation and aiding sleep — more effectively than other forms of consumption, but that these properties have yet to be fully explored.

“This is a new marketplace, an emerging market, and so it’s part [of] what needs to be done is to think about, ‘How do we do this well?’”

While there is still much to be learned about the properties of cannabis before beverages are developed and available to consumers, Murch is excited for these new areas of research to open up in the wake of legalization.

“Without legalization, I wouldn’t be working on cannabis,” she said, noting that this will mean more opportunities for students to research and pursue careers related to cannabis. UBC appointed Canada’s first-ever cannabis professor earlier this month.

“What I think is interesting about the legalization process is that it opens the door for a bunch of researchers and research that would have otherwise not been possible.”