Fans of Mike Tyson have had to bide their time for the next eccentricity. But his latest announcement might have been worth the wait. In an interview with Forbes earlier this month, the former heavyweight boxer announced that his company is developing a 3D printed “smart cup” that contains edible (or rather sippable) cannabis.
The details of Tyson’s plans are intriguing on their own, but are also an encouraging sign of maturity for the edible cannabis industry. For years, innovation in this space has been hampered by the FDA’s policies on cannabis products, and the resulting lack of investment. Now, it seems, major investors are recognizing the health benefits of marijuana, and the opportunities that the edibles market presents.
Tyson’s idea is relatively simple, but still sounds a little like science fiction. He announced that his company, The Ranch Companies, has obtained a global license for 3D printing of edible cannabis products. These products have been developed in partnership with beverage manufacturer Smart Cups, who have pioneered technologies that allow flavored beverages to be printed directly onto biodegradable plastics. Customers simply add water to one of their “smart cups”, and flavorings are automatically released, producing a soft drink.
For Smart Cups and Tyson, this new development is a response to what they see as an obvious gap in the market. Though the science of growing industrial hemp is advancing rapidly, consumers (they say) are still unable to obtain reliable, repeated doses of medical cannabis. “Traditional” methods of dosing – both through smoking and edibles – can deliver varying amounts of the active chemicals that provide health benefits.
This means that the medical cannabis industry lags behind other pharmaceutical products. “When an individual consumes 100 mg of aspirin, no matter where they are in the world, they are confident that they are consuming 100mg of aspirin,” said Chris Kanik, CEO of Smart Cups. “Smart Cups Technology can provide that same consumer confidence.”
Hemp and 3D Printing
The idea of printing cannabis directly onto the surface of disposable cups is a natural one, because 3D printing technology is already widely used in the production of hemp cups. US and Ireland-based filament provider 3D Fuel, for instance, recently launched an environmentally-friendly range of hemp filaments. This material is made from plastic mixed with recycled coffee, beer waste, and hemp plants, and has been designed to be easily printable on any industry-standard 3D printing setup.
Smart cups have taken this idea a step further, by producing a range of low-fat, caffeine-boosted protein powders that are printed directly onto the interior of 3D printed cups. When these materials come into contact with a liquid (soda, saliva, or just water), they are activated.
Adding active sativa- or indica-derived ingredients to this process is a novel idea, and one that is the subject of current research. In addition to the work being done by Ranch and Smart Cups, a company called 3Dom has partnered with bio-composite company c2Renew to create their ‘Entwined’ filament; this is produced using hemp, and aims to achieve the same outcome as Tyson’s proposal.
At a broader level, the ability to use 3D printers to print marijuana products may herald a major revolution in the industry. At the moment, the production of medical-grade cannabis is a costly and complex endeavor, requiring many manufacturing steps. The promise of 3D printing is that companies have a far greater level of control over exactly which ingredients are present in consumer products, allowing them to customize these to a greater level than ever before.
For consumers, the gains provided by 3D printing technologies could be even greater. This technology could be used to design specific doses of marijuana-derived compounds that are tailored specifically for the needs of individuals, and can be delivered in reliable, convenient ways.
The 3D printing process
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Tyson’s announcement is not all that important. As more and more states move toward legalization across the US, we are seeing new cannabis products launched every week. Look a little deeper, though, and it’s apparent that Tyson’s smart cups are great news for the edibles industry. This is for (at least) three reasons.
The first is the level of investment involved. Details on the R+D investment in the new technology are scarce, but given the professionalism of Tyson’s ad campaign it’s clear that serious money is being spent. It seems that investors have finally realized what research has consistently shown: that cannabis is extremely popular. 10% of Americans between ages 18-44 now use CBD regularly.
The second reason for optimism is that 3D printed “instant” beverages are the first major technological advance in edibles technology for many years. If Tyson’s product works, it promises to take the guesswork out of ingesting reliable doses of cannabis-derived ingredients, and this can only be a positive step in terms of mainstream acceptance.
The third reason why Tyson’s new product is exciting is a related one: convenience. It’s not impossible to imagine that his 3D printed cups will soon be available in coffee shops, gas stations, and supermarkets (at least in some states). Indeed, it seems reasonable to assume that capturing the convenience market for edibles is the primary motivation behind the cups. A more convenient way to get the benefits of CBD is likely to supercharge an industry that is already booming.
On the other hand, you’ll forgive us a slight skepticism that Mike Tyson is the best spokesperson for the benefits of cannabis. The former boxer has a long history of espousing some pretty crazy ideas, and given his legal history he might not be an asset for those of us trying to point out that legalization does not increase crime.
Nonetheless, investment and innovation in the edibles market is always welcome, and 3D printed smart cups certainly form part of that.