Perspective on this week’s news

Modern society is going back to nature to avoid chemicals, processed food and unsustainable materials for all aspects of life, and plant-based products are spurring innovation and growth. From health to building construction, plants seem to be a renewed frontier that’s well-funded by research into how these natural resources can be adapted for lifestyle applications. Lots of industry events in February and March have pushed plant-based solutions to the news. Here are highlights from the past week.

A $19 box of Herve THC-infused macarons is available at Nevada marijuana dispensaries.

Natural products in demand
Lots of product launches in February and March are tied to major industry conferences, like the Natural Products Expo West happening this week in California and the recent CBD Expo in Las Vegas. The former is the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products trade show that draws more than 86,000 professionals. The website features a searchable database of more than 46,000 products according to ingredients, in-store positioning, marketing claims, and more.

“Special dietary needs aside, studies show a growing desire among consumers for more plant-based products. In fact, the U.S. retail sales in this market have grown 11 percent in the past year,” according to a press release by $70 million brand BetterBody Foods, who is releasing Plant Junkie, a new dairy, egg, soy, nut and gluten-free condiment line launching this month.

CBD on fire
Nutrition Business Journal named CBD the No. 1 trend to watch at this week’s Natural Products Expo West in California, which underscores the explosion of growth around marijuana that was on display at the recent CBD Expo in Las Vegas. Products featured there include CBD Pillow to promote restful sleep, CBD gummies used by professional athletes, CBD makeup with Saint Jane and hemp beauty products by Prima (both now carried by Sephora), and celebrities who swear by CBD. THC-laced macarons by French company Herve debuted as they are available for sale at marijuana dispensaries in Nevada. The beautiful looking product and packaging is inviting, though an inner sleeve contains a recycling-style warning of THC. The next CBD Expo is planned for Atlanta in May and features product development and innovation, health, marketing, and law surrounding CBD.

While most CBD and marijuana products are ingested orally or applied topically, hemp (also in the cannabis family) offers textile and building materials. Hemp clothing — which is anti-bacterial, weather resistant and durable — has been around for years, and now hemp homes are a reality. Load-bearing hemp bricks, hemp board and hempcrete are being used to erect buildings and modular homes. These will be showcased 31 March to 1 April at the International Hemp Building Symposium in Yorkshire. While the plant-based, fire-resistant construction materials may seem new to consumers, the IHBS has been on it for some time — the 2020 event is its ninth symposium.

Plant dosing becoming a science
As medical marijuana and other plant medicines become more available, dosing is under scrutiny because these compounds often are not based on a person’s body weight, which is how many pharmaceutical drugs are prescribed.

Gofire has partnered with 15 universities to study dosing and efficacy, while EndoCanna Health is assessing dosage requirements through DNA.

Rolling Stone‘s Allie Volpe covers How Weed Tech Companies are Letting Smokers Control Their High. One company trying to understand the efficacy of vaporized plant medicines is Gofire, which makes a hand-held dosing tool and inhaler for taking plant medicines and is working with 15 universities to understand usage and impact.

Gofire CEO Peter Calfee, told her, “When we look at the pharmaceutical space and how a doctor interacts with their patients and recommends a prescription, there’s three things on that prescription pad: dose, chemical profile, and regimen. As we started to develop our smartphone application we wanted to focus on [that].”

Aggregated data from app users was pulled together and published by Bezinga. Top-level results show “patients most sought help with relaxation (2,952 ratings), anxiety relief (2,838 ratings) and sleep (2,339 ratings).”

Dosing according to DNA? It’s possible, says EndoCanna Health. The company provide DNA testing kits that enable someone to get a personalised report that uncovers “specific endocannabinoid markers to provide matching to specific CBD product suggestions based on individual genotype,” according to a press release. 

Plant-based ethics and marketing
“Plant-based” is no longer just about ingredients, it’s a mindset — as Plant-Based Ethics were named the top trend in natural products by Adrienne Smith of New Hope Network, the business intelligence company that owns Natural Products Expo West.

Plant-based eating has gone from outlier to ethos in recent years as people incorporate more plants and plant-based proteins into their diets,” Smith wrote in her article on macro trends for 2020. “While the health ramifications of eating more vegetables and plants has long been driving this trend, the conversations of the future will place an increasing importance on the macro trend of ‘Plant-based Ethics.’ Brands that tell these stories will stand out above the rest.”

Philippe Becker, a marketing and advertising industry stalwart, agrees. “This is one of the most exciting times in food and wellness, with entrepreneurs redefining and creating new categories focusing on better health for consumers, and more sustainable environmental practices,” Becker, founder of specialised food and wellness brand design agency Plant Creative in San Francisco, is quoted in a press release. “I started Plant Creative because I wanted to pursue my passion for designing food and wellness brands, and I believe the craft of design and storytelling plays an important role connecting consumers to brands in deeper and more meaningful ways.” 

Legalization of Plant Medicines
Controversy still exists around the use of certain plants and medicines derived from them. Cannabis is being shown to help with a range of issues from pain relief and sleep improvement (with or without THC), ayahuasca is helping those with PTSD (see documentary film From Shock to Awe), and Israel is using MDMA (“ecstasy,” derived from the sassafras plant) for treatment-resistant depression. Psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) is gaining momentum as an alternative to opioids, and already three cities in the U.S. have legalised their use. 

Israel and Canada are leading cannabis research because their laws allow it, and that’s not the case in other medical research-leading countries. This could change because the global narcotics authority is considering loosening limits.

“The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), responsible for monitoring compliance with global drug treaties, has admitted it may have to water down its hardline approach to cannabis regulation to stay relevant,” GreenMarketReport reported upon last week’s release of INCB’s annual report. INCB President Cornelis P. de Joncheere was quoted by Marijuana Business Daily when presenting the report: “We have to recognize that the conventions were drawn up 50 and 60 years ago.” The annual report also makes a major call to recognise the impact of psychactive substance use on young people aged 15 to 24, among other highlights.

Eleven U.S. states have legalised marijuana for recreational use, and more for medicinal use. Already shortages of medical marijuana are happening due to high demand, so people are growing their plants at home. Illinois allows patients to grow up to five plants at home.

Ecstasy is now prescribed in Israel. “Israel’s Ministry of Health has approved using MDMA, popularly known as “Ecstasy” to treat 50 patients suffering from PTSD in four Israeli hospitals,” Stephanie Price writes on HealthEuropa.” Israel is the only country in the world where the government is funding studies using psilocybin for treatment resistant depression.”

Traditional healers in developing countries are in a unique position as their concoctions have been used for generations and governments are starting to regulate them. Zimbabwe is leading the way: The government created a licensing process for medicines used by traditional healers, but the process is proving too cumbersome, as reported in the 8 February edition of Mindstream’s NewsWrap.

The results are in on Canada’s legalisation of cannabis for recreational use, and last week market research firm Mintel reported major uptake. “After just one year, the effects of this industry are already far-reaching – from food and drink to insurance to tourism and more – and additional markets will begin to experience the ripple effects of the legalization of cannabis this year,” Senior Research Analyst Scott Stewart said in a press release. “While nearly half (46%) of cannabis consumers use it to have fun, and even greater percentage use cannabis as a wellness product,” with 62% using it to relax, 54% to relieve stress/anxiety, 42% to improve sleep, and 39% to improve mood. Those who do not use cannabis would be open to it for pain relief (42%) and sleep improvement (25%).

Plant conservation an issue as market expands
As herbal remedies and the medicinal plant trade grow to $5 trillion by 2050, plants are under threat, Aathira Perinchery writes on MongaBay in India. The country is home to 8,000 plants in a worldwide tally of 70,000 plant species. Her story is a warning that extensive use without conservation is an emergency now. She cites the World Health Organization’s estimate that 70% to 95% of people in developing countries rely largely on traditional medicine (mostly herbal remedies) as primary care, and that at least 25% of modern medications are derived from plants. Her story summarises calls for conservation by scientists and how the government is taking steps toward threats including overharvesting, climate change and others. This is likely to become a bigger story worldwide.

To showcase and preserve its heritage in plant-based knowledge, China has produced its first documentary on native species and their traditional uses. Locally, London’s oldest botanic garden holds an archive of more than 5,000 plants. The Chelsea Physic Garden, founded in 1673, offers a tour to learn around the garden to see the plants that form modern pharmaceuticals.

Nutrition news
It’s well known that cardiologists back a plant-based diet for heart health, but new evidence shows it has to be a healthy plant-based diet. Avoiding meat is not enough: An unhealthful plant-based diet, such as potato crisps and other foods high in saturated fat), show no benefit over a regular meat-filled Western diet.

Hospitals are starting to get with it, though slowly. Last year, the NHS Hospital Trust in East Lancashire launched an extensive vegan menu for patients, and in December New York became the first U.S. state to require hospitals to offer plant-based meals for patients.

Researchers are a step closer to healing broken bones through plants. A plant-grown protein has been shown to boost bone volume, density and size in mice. The research, conducted by University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine and published in the March issue of Biomaterials, shows that an orally delivered, shelf-stable medication grown in lettuce plants could stimulate the growth of bone-building cells and promote bone regeneration.

It should be getting easier to eat and drink healthfully as cleaner, less processed and more functional food comes on the market, fueled by research. Expect to see more non-dairy, plant-based probiotics to help gut health, which is tied to mental wellness, and more functional food and drink products. Some existing vegan sources of probiotics are nut butters, fermented kombucha, and organic sauerkraut, organic olives, and plant-based yogurt.

In addition to academic and corporate research efforts, startups are focused on hacking plants. Brightseed is one biotech lab startup using artificial intelligence to understand the benefits of plant molecules for health. When it cracks a code, it will use the found ‘supernutrients’ to create foods that support health and prevent illness, Adele Peters wrote last week in FastCompany. She quoted Brightseed cofounder Sofia Elizondo: “We can actually translate food into medicine. We know what it takes to grow things that are clinically proven to be more nutritious for a very specific health outcome. And in doing so, we hope to not only turn the healthcare paradigm on its head—to full-on prevention through what we eat—but also reinvigorate the entire supply chain.” By ‘supernutrients,’ Elizondo means compounds like curcumin in turmeric (found to help with anxiety, arthritis, and muscle soreness), gingerol in ginger (prevents nausea), and resveratrol in red grapes, which has antioxidant properties, among other potential benefits.

All of the above show there is still room to learn how plants can benefit human health and thriving. While progress is being made, education and solutions need to be made available to all and the source plants’ habitats must be protected.

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