It was only a matter of time that Cannabis beverages would become a thing. If it’s sweet, healthy, or trendy, it’s only expected that someone would lean back in their chair, narrows their eyes, and say, “I bet I could drink that.”
Such is the case with cannabis and CBD beverages. Drink makers, forever hard-pressed by competition and market forces to innovate new and exciting libations, have launched a full-court press to incorporate the plant’s benevolent secretions into soft drinks, health drinks, spirits, beers, and more.
And so we arrive at the dramatic hook: do cannabis-infused drinks live up to the hype?
Here’s an undramatic answer: yes.
This article provides a brief history of how cannabis found its way into our beverages, as well as how our bodies handle cannabis drinks, the difference between CBD and THC drinks, their benefits, and how cannabis beverages are likely to grow as an industry.
How Did Cannabis Become a Drink Ingredient?
The story starts, as most cannabis stories do, with legalization. Today’s multi-billion-dollar cannabis industry is a relative newcomer to the stage. It wasn’t until 2012 — the year the world was supposed to end, if you’ll recall — that recreational marijuana was legalized in Washington and Colorado, representing the first legal recreational use in the country.
Essentially everything we know has happened since. In 2019, the industry made $9.7 billion, and by 2022, it could be as high as $32 billion. That’s a staggering amount of growth in a span of less than a decade.
However, cannabis has had a lot of bad press to shake off. The tale of this anti-cannabis propaganda is one of intrigue and duplicity. Let us travel back a century, when the kids boogied to big-band jazz and hemp was the fabric of choice for just about everything. That’s not an exaggeration — for centuries, it was what people used to make their clothing, textiles, ropes, sails, and more. The word “canvas” even comes from “cannabis.” A 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics gushed that hemp would soon become a billion-dollar crop.
Enter classism and racism — those evergreen historical characters. Marijuana was widely known to be a drug of choice among many poorer demographics. In the spirit of Jim Crow and the College of Knee-Jerk Sociology, the government decided to relieve poor people of their vices by systematically outlawing all forms of cannabis in the late 1930s — including hemp, despite it being a non-intoxicant.
Fast-forward through World War II, the growth of suburbia, the 1960s’ cultural revolution, the Vietnam War, the eras of disco and hair metal, and all other events leading to the supremely complex world we now occupy. Cannabis is now largely legal.
And yet, the stigma of nearly 100 years of propaganda remains. Rolling a joint, smoking a bowl, or taking a bong hit is what millions of people associate with smoking pot. Many feel this is something they’ll never try.
But that CBD energy drink sitting next to the Red Bull? Looks harmless enough. Beverages are a great way for newcomers to get to know cannabis better, enjoy its healthy effects, and even enjoy a mellow high without having to step too far out of their comfort zones. For cannabis connoisseurs, these beverages provide yet another way to enjoy the magic plant.
How Our Bodies Handle Cannabis Beverages
Bioavailability is a term that describes how much of a substance — whether it’s a medicine, nutrient, or chemical like THC or CBD — gets into our bloodstream. Cannabinoids are fat-soluble, making them harder to digest by ingestion techniques like eating and drinking, and easier to digest by smoking, vaping, and taking tinctures (all of which place cannabinoids in the bloodstream more quickly).
You might assume, then, that drinks have a lousy bioavailability. Happily, this is not the case. Because the mucosal membranes in the mouth are highly absorptive, cannabis products in drinks can travel directly into the bloodstream when they enter your mouth. This means savoring the flavor of a cannabis drink can also give you better effects.
CBD Drinks vs. Other Cannabis Drinks
Both marijuana and hemp have well-documented health effects. The main difference between them is that marijuana gets you high and hemp doesn’t.
Marijuana contains tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is an intoxicant that can induce a mellow sense of low-flying euphoria. Marijuana also contains scores of other cannabinoids, each with its own host of positive health effects; however, THC is the star of the group. Hemp, on the other hand, contains the more prudish but equally charitable cannabidiol (CBD). CBD can have a calming effect on you and works wonders on your mental and physical health, but will not get you high.
For this reason, CBD drinks are generally safe for those about to drive, go to work, or perform just about any other daily function. Drinks with THC must be consumed with the same care and considerations as alcohol.
The Health Benefits of Cannabis Drinks
Cannabis has been shown in studies to be associated with several positive health effects. According to Medical News Today, these include:
- Quelling chronic pain
- Aiding in fighting addiction
- Helping with mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder
- Slowing the growth of cancer cells
- Improving symptoms of multiple sclerosis and epilepsy
- Improving insomnia
Because of this, you can feel fairly confident in the “health” portion of the phrase “health drink” when cannabis gets involved. Of course, the FDA does not officially recognize cannabis as a health treatment, and your doctor is your best resource for questions about using cannabis products.
The Future of the Cannabis Beverage Industry
The outlook for cannabis beverages is excellent. From beer lovers to liquor fans, kombucha aficionados to wide-eyed energy drink chuggers, the consensus seems to be that cannabis drinks are fantastic.
Companies like Constellation Brands have invested billions of dollars in cannabis growers, and brands like Lagunitas and Molson Coors Brewing have not missed the boat. Winemakers are getting in as well. Even mainstream beverage makers like Pepsi, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola have stated that they have a finger on the pulse of cannabis beverages, according to Forbes, which shows how much of a hold they’ve taken on the market.
In the coming years, CBD- and THC-infused drinks will likely remain a growing trend in the beverage industry. They work wonders, are chock full of new ideas and fun flavors, and support an industry that’s beneficial to the planet.
TL;DR: Cannabis drinks are a trend you shouldn’t miss out on — when was the last time a cocktail came with a list of health benefits?