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Sugar-free cannabis: Edible makers seek sweet but healthy solutions

For much of the past year, the threat of the COVID-19 virus has overshadowed one obvious fact: the major cause of death in America traditionally has been heart disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 655,381 U.S. citizens died in 2018 from heart ailments (edging out cancer, which placed second at 599,274).

And when it comes to heart problems, many experts in the health field blame refined sugar as a major cause.

“(O)ne area that may surprise many men is how their taste for sugar can have a serious impact on their heart health,” said Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Speaking to the Harvard Medical School newsletter, Harvard Health Publishing, he added, “Excess sugar’s impact on obesity and diabetes is well documented.”

In a 15-year study, published in 2014, Hu and a team of colleagues discovered that those who consumed between 17 and 21 percent of their calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease than those who consumed 8 percent or less.

“Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease,” Hu said.

Because of such concerns, a number of cannabis producers across the country are offering an array of sugar-free cannabis-infused edibles. In a 2018 story, the cannabis magazine Leafly wrote an article headlined, “12 Sugar-Free Edibles for a Healthier High.”

One of the products mentioned was Swifts Edibles Green Tea Peppermint Mints, made by Raymond, Wash.-based Green Labs. Described as “delicious, fresh, and sugar-free,” the mints were said to be, “an all-natural, discreet way to medicate, boasting 20 mints with 100mg THC per container.”

Companies across the nation are following suit. One company taking heart health seriously is Wana Brands, a Boulder, Colo.-based maker of edible cannabis products.

As the Colorado business newspaper BizWest reported, Wana Brands shifted away from the use of high-fructose corn syrup because of customer demand.

The company, CEO Nancy Whiteman said, spent months “searching for the perfect organic sweetener substitute that would not sacrifice our products’ taste and texture.”

In Washington, the question of sugar-laden cannabis-infused edibles became an issue in October 2018 when the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board banned the sale of many candy-type products. The problem, though, was not the presence of sugar itself but the presumption that cannabis candies would appeal too much to children (the ban was overturned last summer when edible producers agreed to abide by stricter packaging requirements).

Whatever the law, the demand for sugar-free cannabis edibles hasn’t gone away, causing Washington producers to continue looking for ways to offer sugar-free alternatives.

Jeff Eckenrode, Hashtag Cannabis & Supply Co.’s chief operating officer, wrote that health is one of his company’s top priorities.

“(W)hat if you’re trying to lose weight?” Eckenrode asked. “Or if your diet doesn’t allow you to eat foods that are high in sugar? Not to worry, you’re not alone. A lot of the budtenders at Hashtag have dietary restrictions just like you.”

Among the products that retailer Hashtag offers at its Seattle and Redmond locations: Olala, which produces a range of sugar-free Sparkling Sodas, and ZootRocks candies that are sweetened with a blend of non-GMO sugar beet and Stevia.

Tate Miller, manager of Spokane’s The Vault, says his store carries only one sugar-free brand of edibles at the moment: candies made by the Bellingham-based company Verdelux. He said he’s carried other brands in the past, and he sells a variety of vegan edibles and even some that are kosher.

“We try to accommodate everyone we can,” Miller said, adding that the sugar-free edibles he has carried are sought mostly by customers who are diabetic.

“There is a demand for it,” he said. “It’s just not as high a demand as for the regular edibles that we carry.” Regardless, he added, when he does have the sugar-free brands on hand, “they go pretty fast.”

No wonder. Especially now, you can’t put a price on good health.

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