Ask UNL's Food Doc: Cannabis edibles on the rise nationwide
Ask the Food Doc

Ask UNL's Food Doc: Cannabis edibles on the rise nationwide

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Cannabis edible

High Chew edibles are shown on display and offered for sale at the cannabis-themed Kushstock Festival at Adelanto, Calif., in 2018.

Dear Food Doc: I just returned from a visit to Seattle. Evidently, marijuana is now even in foods. What is the likelihood these products will reach Nebraska?

Answer: Have you seen pigs flying over Memorial Stadium? A few years ago, the notion of legal cannabis seemed just as far out.

But cannabis-containing foods in Nebraska? I have news for you – they are already here!

Well, before anyone freaks out, I need to qualify that a bit.

First, there are dozens of active ingredients in cannabis (the plant from which marijuana is derived). One is called THC – that’s the substance that causes the user to feel “high” or euphoric. More on that later.

Another constituent is called CBD, short for cannabidiol. CBD has no psychoactive properties, meaning it does not induce a high.

A small amount of CBD is found in marijuana, but for commercial purposes, it is extracted from hemp. The latter is a botanical cousin to marijuana. Hemp contains lots of CBD but very little THC.

Nonetheless, CBD does have several therapeutic applications, including as an FDA-approved treatment for epilepsy. Research suggests it may also reduce anxiety, depression and insomnia. The U.S. Surgeon General has even noted the potential benefits of CBD when used properly.

This is why we are seeing a rush of hemp-derived CBD products, including foods.

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is now a legal agricultural product. The bill removed federal prohibitions on hemp growing that had been in place for the past 80 years. The bill also removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act.

To grow hemp in Nebraska, farmers still need a license. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture has already received 176 applications, approving 10 so far.

Nonetheless, the legality of CBD food products is currently in dispute. The FDA has not approved any CBD-containing food for interstate commerce. But locally, several business are operating in Lincoln and throughout the state.

Last month, I visited a local shop that advertised gummy bears, pretzels, hard candy and even coffee, all with CBD. On Amazon, there are hundreds of similar products.

Most are being developed by small companies. But that is about to change. Already, Ben and Jerry’s has promised CBD-infused ice cream just as soon as the FDA gives the green light.

That hasn’t stopped other ice cream entrepreneurs. Parlors from California to Maine and from Canada to Israel are selling CBD ice creams, gelatos and sorbets.

Despite this interest in CBD, the real buzz is about adding other forms of cannabis -- marijuana and THC -- into foods and beverages.

The market for these products is expected to grow at a double-digit pace and may reach $25 billion in the next 5 years.

Surveys indicate that nearly 80% of the U.S. population have personal experience with cannabis or know someone who has. More than 1 in 4 people would try cannabis-infused foods, provided they were legal.

Of course, only in locales where recreational marijuana is allowed will consumers have access to these products. Currently, that includes 11 states, accounting for about 25% of the U.S. population. Another 22 states allow medical marijuana.

The most popular “edibles” are exactly as you would expect. Candies, snack foods, pastries, beverages, and of course, brownies.

For food scientists, these foods pose many challenges. Marijuana, CBD, or THC can affect food flavor, texture, and shelf-life. Plus, manufacturers must make sure the amounts provide consistent doses and are within legal limits.

I’m not sure how Betty Crocker would react to these developments. Then again, I did find a reader-submitted recipe on the Betty Crocker website that called for cannabis butter.

Bob Hutkins is the Food Doc. He is a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he teaches and conducts research in food science and food microbiology. Send your questions on any topic related to food, food safety, food ingredients and food processing to the Food Doc at features@journalstar.com.

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