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Cannabis in Beverages: A Definitive Guide

Across the U.S., cannabis, marijuana and hemp drinks are flooding the market, with producers advertising the beverages as healthier, lighter alternatives to beer, wine and spirits. The drinks include still and sparkling waters, teas, fruit-flavored products and dealcoholized, tetrahyrocannabinol (THC)-infused drinks inspired by wines and beers. Cannabis drinks can usually be found in dispensaries and pop-up events where legal. Hemp drinks are starting to make their appearance in health stores and cafes as well.

Most cannabis, marijuana and hemp beverages come premade and ready-to-drink. Beverages with high amounts of THC, such as 100 mg, are designed to be poured into smaller doses. As more consumers explore the effects of THC and cannabidiol (CBD), producers will develop new drinks, especially ones with higher concentrations of these active ingredients.


THC and CBD: Similarities and Differences

Cannabis beverages are typically marketed as mildly intoxicating drinks that serve as a “social lubricant,” much like alcohol. Many cannabis drinks contain between 2.5 and 10 mg of THC. They may also contain cannabis-derived CBD as well. Hemp beverages are typically marketed as health and wellness products, designed to aid sleep and reduce pain and anxiety. Hemp beverages are non-intoxicating and may contain between 3 mg and 50 mg of hemp-derived CBD.

The majority of cannabis and hemp beverages do not have a strong “green” taste. Manufacturers tend to use processes to extract THC and CBD that eliminate the taste and odor of the plant.

The effects of THC and CBD differ according to the user and their tolerance. Generally, THC induces euphoria and a lively, excited feeling. THC can also reduce pain. The negative effects of THC can include anxiety, paranoia and stress. CBD, whether it is cannabis-derived or hemp-derived, typically acts as a relaxant and pain reducer. When THC and CBD are combined, a user can experience a higher degree of relaxation and an upswing in mood. In addition, combining THC and CBD heightens the effect of pain reduction. A consumer who uses THC or CBD frequently and in heavy doses can build up a high tolerance to these compounds.


Understanding Cannabis, Hemp and Legality

Cannabis, a genus of flowering plant, contains three species, Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. The term “cannabis” refers to varieties of the plant that contain over 0.3 percent of the psychoactive compound THC. THC produces psychotropic and euphoric effects. Cannabis strains can contain up to 30 percent THC. The cannabis plant has been used as an intoxicant for over 10,000 years. “Hemp” is a non-scientific term that refers to a cannabis plant that contains 0.3 percent or less of THC by dry weight. Hemp was primarily bred for industrial use, such as textiles.

Hemp and cannabis can contain high levels of CBD, a non-psychoactive compound. Cannabis-derived CBD and hemp-derived CBD have the same effect. Yet only hemp-derived CBD is legal under federal law.

Cannabis was used in the U.S. for many years, but started being regulated in the 1920s. State governments led the charge to pass anti-cannabis laws, culminating with an 11-state ban by 1927. By the mid-1930s, every state had regulated cannabis. The federal government passed the Marihuana Tax Law of 1937 to heavily tax the possession, sale and transportation of cannabis. This legislation paved the way for cannabis prohibition.

The federal government declared cannabis illegal in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Today, cannabis remains illegal on a federal level. It is classified as a Schedule I substance, a drug that has been determined to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

The federal government also declared hemp an illegal substance through the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. It reversed its decision in 2018. The passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 legalized hemp and hemp-derived products, including hemp-derived CBD.

Eleven states have passed laws to allow the recreational use of cannabis, Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. The District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam also allow recreational use of the drug. Thirty-three states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands allow medical use of cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation. Fourteen other states have laws that limit the THC content of products. This allows consumers access to products that contain CBD. Other jurisdictions have decriminalized the use of cannabis.

Currently, the U.S. is a patchwork of different laws regarding cannabis and hemp. In some states, like California and Colorado, a consumer can find a multitude of premade cannabis and hemp beverages. Yet state laws, like California Assembly Bill 2914, prohibit certain actions, such as the addition of CBD to an alcoholic cocktail at a public establishment like a restaurant.

In other states, such as in most of the South, cannabis and hemp beverage production is lagging. This is because a number of states have not legalized cannabis for recreational use. It is also because state laws may prohibit transport of a cannabis product across state lines. This means a manufacturer has to establish a manufacturing facility in every state where they will sell the product. Another obstacle is the fact that federal and sometimes state laws prohibit mixing alcohol and either THC or CBD.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently considering the safety and quality of products containing cannabis and cannabis compounds. In May 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held its first public hearing to obtain scientific data and information on the effects of cannabis compounds.


 

Exploring Cannabis and Hemp Beverages

Breweries have made huge strides in creating dealcoholized beers that they infuse with THC.

Two Roots Brewing, a San Diego brewery, is making Southern California craft beer in five different styles, a lager, a stout, New West IPA, Blonde ale, and a Wheat ale, each with 5 mg THC. The company has two more releases planned for this year.

“Consumers are searching for and have availability of healthier consumption options in traditional markets. They lack [those options] in non-traditional markets. Two Roots is a product that bridges consumers’ desire for healthier consumption options within the cannabis market. We’ve made a drink that tastes like beer without the drawbacks of alcohol,” said Kevin Love, vice president of market activations for CannabiniersThe company has acquired three other U.S. craft breweries to create THC-infused beverages.

Love said the infusion technology involves adding water-soluble, flavorless THC to the beverage.

“Our “cannabiers” have a rapid onset, where you feel the THC take effect in 10 minutes,” said Love.

Ceria Brewing Company, an Arvada, Colorado-based brewer, also released a dealcoholized version of beer with a water-soluble THC infusion. Keith Villa, the creator of Witbier Blue Moon, said the first offering is Grainwave, a dealcoholized Belgian-style white ale with 5 mg of THC.

“We expect to release a dealcoholized IPA with 10 mg of THC and 10 mg of CBD this summer and a light lager craft style beer with 2.5 mg THC by the end of 2019,” said Villa.

Villa said Ceria is focusing on making low-dose products “socially acceptable, for birthday parties, gatherings, anywhere you’d have fun.”

A number of manufacturers have focused on drinks that taste more like cocktails.


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