The controversy surrounding cannabis is nothing new. However, due to its widespread legalization in many parts of the United States, the cannabis conversation has taken some interesting twists and turns in the last few years. We now see a thriving and rapidly growing cannabis marketplace coming to life in the form of edibles, candy, vaping devices, creams, oils and extracts, presented via storefronts and e-commerce, and promoted for both recreational and medicinal use.
Additionally, cannabis-infused beverages are an industry growing so rapidly that this new market is expected to reach over $2 billion in annual sales by 2026. These drinks offer an alternative to typical edibles or smoking, but many people wonder whether or not these cannabis-infused products are safe, as well as what the general guidelines are for consuming them.
Before exploring the growing industry of cannabis-infused drinks, it’s important to understand what cannabis is, the effects of it on the body, how these drinks are made, how they are meant to be consumed and how they may potentially impact one’s health, for better or worse. Read on to dive a bit deeper into the world of cannabis-infused drinks, and to perhaps help inform a decision about whether or not these beverages are a proper fit for you and your lifestyle.
What Is Cannabis?
Cannabis, commonly consumed for its relaxing and calming effects, begins as a plant that has two main subspecies: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. The Cannabis sativa plant is a cannabinoid drug. Cannabinoids are a group of more than 100 substances found in the cannabis plant. Cannabis is made up of more than 500 chemical compounds, but primarily contains two cannabinoids: the psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD).
Wynk describes CBD as “THC’s laid-back friend.” CBD will not intoxicate you, while THC is responsible for the feeling and intoxication that people generally associate with cannabis, and the two are in a constant balancing act. According to a study shared in the Journal of Neuroscience, CBD essentially lightens the potentially overstimulating side effects of THC, which can help reduce the feelings of anxiety or paranoia that may come with the psychological effects that THC induces. In simple terms, THC can lead to the intoxicated feeling typically associated with cannabis, and CBD can help you feel more calm. Together, these compounds may help provide a more balanced sense of relaxation upon cannabis consumption.
How Are Cannabis-Infused Drinks Made?
To infuse beverages with cannabis, a cannabis extract is required, which is created by adding liquid carbon dioxide to raw cannabis materials under immense pressure and heat. Ultimately, the carbon dioxide is released as a gas and the concentrated cannabis extract remains. Then, a process called nanoemulsion takes place, which breaks the cannabis oil down into nanoparticles that are blended with the given liquid base for the cannabis-infused drink being produced.
An average recommended serving for cannabis drinks is generally 5 to 10 milligrams of THC per serving. The effects of cannabis-infused drinks can generally be felt within 10 to 15 minutes, with full effects peaking at around 45 minutes to one hour. While alcoholic beverages and cannabis-infused drinks produce different effects when consumed, it can be helpful to have a way to compare the two if you are new to the cannabis world and trying to figure out a proper dosage for your tolerance levels.
According to Wynk, a microdose of THC is 2 to 5 mg per serving, which they equate to drinking one light beer that is 3% to 5% alcohol by volume. One or two cannabis-infused drinks will produce similar feelings of intoxication to drinking a higher-ABV beer like an India pale ale. A strong dose of 25 mg THC is similar to the level of of intoxication one would feel after drinking a bottle of wine, while 100 mg THC is as strong as a bottle of 80-proof vodka (neither of which is recommended, obviously). Because cannabis impacts everyone differently, it is best to approach these drinks with the industry guideline of “start low, go slow.”
Popular Cannabis-Infused Drink Brands
Cannabis-infused beverages come in the form of sodas, coffees, nonalcoholic wines, seltzers and powdered or liquid beverage enhancers that can be mixed into a regular drink. More and more cannabis drinks are hitting the market, and it’s worth exploring different brands to see what works best, because in addition to dosage in each drink, the THC and CBD content in cannabis-infused drinks can also vary based on what type of experience the drink is trying to achieve. Below are some popular brands.
- Cann: This queer-owned cannabis brand is the best-selling THC beverage brand in the country and refers to itself as “social tonic.” Cann is a lightly carbonated, juice-flavored cannabis-infused beverage. With 2 mg of THC per serving (one can equals one serving), it’s the lowest dosage on the market.
- Wynk: This brand prides itself as “seltzer with a wynk of THC.” With a 1-to-1 ratio of THC to CBD, you can expect a light and casual buzz.
- Olala: These cannabis-infused sodas are crafted in California, and they describe each sip as “a kiss from the sun.” These bright and bubbly sodas are made with pure cane sugar and come in an array of flavors and THC dosages. Whether you’re new to cannabis or a longtime consumer, Olala suggests the “start low, go slow” industry rule-of-thumb when exploring what dosage is best for your experience.
- Wunder: These refreshing and low-dose cannabis-infused sparkling beverages are made with all-natural fruit juice. With a dose of 2 mg Delta-9 THC, 2 mg Delta-8 THC and 4 mg CBD, Wunder prides itself in providing the ultimate state of blissful and euphoric relaxation without a distracting or disruptive body high.
- Mad Lilly: This woman-owned brand produces THC-infused spritzers that are sold individually (not available in packs) and are all-natural and low-calorie. Mad Lilly beverages come in creatively unique flavors such as passion fruit mango, ginger pear and raspberry hibiscus, and they pack a refreshing flavor to help you stay focused and relaxed.
- ALT: Advanced Liquid Technology (ALT) is a zero-calorie, zero-sugar, flavor-neutral adaptable liquid beverage enhancement that can be added to any drink for a customizable cannabis-infused experience. For example, you can add 2 mg to a smoothie or 5 mg to a mocktail or cocktail. ALT is available in 5 mg and 10 mg formulations, each in packs of five.
How Can Cannabis Drinks Affect Your Health?
Potential Positive Health Impacts
There is a growing trend—particularly among younger consumers—to drink less alcohol or completely abstain. Cannabis-infused beverages provide an upbeat way to experience a social buzz while reducing or avoiding alcohol altogether and also avoiding the aftereffects of feeling hungover the following day.
Cannabis-infused drinks provide a consistent and predictable experience because products often contain pre-measured amounts of THC and CBD, helping consumers to drink and experience at their own pace based on the dosage that works best for them. There can be a stronger sense of control than with drinking alcohol, which may lead to more positive decision-making and more responsible drinking.
In comparison to vaping or smoking, cannabis-infused drinks are less harmful to the lungs, which is important for both short- and long-term health purposes, especially for individuals with asthma or respiratory conditions. Vaping and smoking are also faster-acting methods of cannabis consumption, which may put individuals at a higher risk for the adverse effects of THC, such as anxiety or paranoia. It’s easier to start slowly and see how you feel with cannabis-infused beverages.
Potential Negative Health Impacts
While cannabis comes from a plant and is, by definition, natural, it can have strong effects and can impact individuals very differently. Reported side effects of cannabis-infused drinks include rapid heart rate, dizziness, anxiety, disorganized thoughts, memory loss and nausea or vomiting. Individuals are advised to start low and go slow when exploring the dosage most suitable for their cannabis-infused drinking experience.
A general lack of knowledge surrounding important aspects of CBD and THC could be, in and of itself, potentially dangerous. According to the Food and Drug Administration, which is working to answer more questions about the science and safety of products containing cannabis, it is still unknown what will happen if CBD is consumed for sustained periods of time and what level of intake may trigger risks associated with CBD. Reports have also shown that CBD may cause damage to fertility in males in studies of animals, so this does raise the question of whether or not this could have an impact in male humans, as well. But more research is needed to clarify the long-term effects on human health.
So, Are Cannabis Drinks Safe?
Who Is a Good Fit?
Those avoiding alcohol but still seeking a social buzz may be a good fit for exploring the world of cannabis-infused beverages. If you are new to cannabis and looking to explore your tolerance, it’s best to start low and go slow in order to identify the best dosage for you. In order to truly enjoy your time consuming cannabis-infused drinks, try different brands and learn about the different approaches of each company. Different cannabis-infused beverages aim to serve different purposes such as a strong social buzz, maintaining focus on tasks and responsibilities, or facilitating an effective and restful night of sleep.
Who Is an Unsafe Fit?
The FDA has not approved the cannabis plant for medical use, and people with liver, kidney, heart or lung disease should speak to a health care provider before consuming any form of cannabis. According to the FDA, the effects of CBD on a developing brain, such as children, a developing fetus or a breastfed newborn, is not yet known. Therefore, those who are pregnant, planning to get pregnant or breastfeeding should also avoid cannabis products, infused beverages included.
If you are someone who reacts negatively to cannabis with feelings of anxiety, paranoia and panic, you may want to steer clear of cannabis-infused drinks, or stick to the “start low, go slow” approach when exploring the best THC dosage for you.
An Important Note
Cannabis-infused beverages are not the same as CBD beverages, as cannabis-infused drinks also contain THC, while only CBD drinks do not. CBD drinks will not give you the intoxicated feeling that cannabis-infused beverages containing both CBD and THC might. It’s best to read ingredient labels and research brands, like those mentioned above, to explore and discover the experience you’re looking for. And always talk to your doctor before trying anything new. If you aren’t interested in a buzz, CBD drinks may suit your goals better than cannabis-infused drinks.
The Bottom Line
The cannabis-infused beverage industry is rapidly growing in popularity and creativity. There is a world of knowledge to explore, and individuals are encouraged to discover the safest, most fitting and appropriate dosage for their desired cannabis-infused drinking experience. Cannabis-infused drinks can be safe, but like all drinking, it’s best to approach responsibly by understanding and acknowledging your own personal limits, tolerance, experiential goals and reactions to cannabis. (Full Story)