When Europeans think about cannabis, most think about smoking or vaping. A few are familiar with the so-called ‘space cakes’ you can get from Amsterdam coffeeshops, but almost no one thinks about drinking cannabis.
In fact, drinking cannabis was such an outlandish idea just a few years ago, even professionals activating in the cannabis industry were dismissing it. In a recent interview with Strain Insider, Bruce Linton — the co-founder of cannabis giant Canopy Growth Corp. — said, ‘I started talking about beverages as a product five years ago, and I was told that that was a dumb thing. No one drinks cannabis beverages. At that time, though, I said they shouldn’t be drinking cannabis beverages because they suck.’
And the general public shared the feeling. Cannabis enthusiasts in North America complained about the strong taste of cannabis drinks. Some said that drinking a cannabis beverage was as bad as drinking bong water. But, believe it or not, that wasn’t the worst part.
Why consumers hated cannabis drinks
Like all edibles, cannabis drinks take some time to kick in. But the absent-minded ease of sipping on a beverage almost guaranteed that you’d have had too much to drink by the time the effects start. Unlike alcohol, which affects you gradually, the high you get from eating cannabis might hit you all at once, so drinking too much could make you feel terrible.
But sometimes the opposite happened. Consumers would sip on their drinks and wait patiently for the effects of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) to kick in, but that wouldn’t happen because they bought a low-dose product.
Five years ago, most cannabis drinks came in two concentrations: one aimed at beginners with about 2.5 mg of THC per bottle and one aimed at serious stoners with about 100 mg of THC per bottle. The average consumer might get high after consuming three bottles of the first or just two sips of the latter.
The powerful taste of cannabis, combined with the varied dosage of cannabinoids in a beverage and the consumer’s cannabis tolerance, made it almost impossible to enjoy cannabis drinks.
But times have obviously changed. Cannabis drinks are now tasty and in demand.
Cannabis extracts and isolates improved beverages
Cannabis is a wonderful plant. You can make many different things out of it, but even expert brew makers thought you couldn’t make it taste good as a drink. The plant’s smell and taste are powerful, and some find them unpleasant. When you mix cannabis in a drink, the plant’s signature smell might ruin it.
That’s why most canna-beverage producers from five years ago used intense flavours like lemon, cinnamon and fruit juices or added a lot of sugar to cover it up. That didn’t necessarily make the drinks taste good, but it managed to make them more appealing. But the real breakthroughs came from using extracts and isolates in the production process.
CBD isolate is 99.9 percent pure CBD. The isolate is odourless and tasteless, so you can add it to a drink without ruining its taste. Manufacturers can use THC crystals to produce drinks in states and countries that legalised recreational cannabis. There’s even a Canadian company that is claiming that it will brew beer directly from cannabis, making it easier to consume.
Why are cannabis drinks so popular in the U.S.?
You might be wondering why cannabis drinks are so popular in the U.S. Well, one of the main reasons people love them is that there are a lot of products to choose from. Producers are infusing THC (in states that legalised recreational use of cannabis) and CBD in all sorts of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
You can now find cannabis in whiskey, wine, margaritas, soda, cider, tea, water, energy drinks, coffee and more. These beverages offer variable concentrations of cannabinoids, with some being marketed as relaxation products and others as party products.
But many producers opted to sell their products as health and wellness supplements. These products can help you unwind after work or boost your energy levels in the morning, depending on their cannabinoid profile.
Cannabis drinks might lead the edibles industry segment
The cannabis beverage industry sector is blowing up. Canna-beverages are expected to be worth about $1.4 billion (around €1.25 billion) by 2023 in the U.S. alone. That’s an incredible figure, especially since the U.S. cannabis beverage market was worth $89 million (around €80 million) in 2018. There’s even a cannabis drinks convention, which will be held in San Francisco next year.
Cannabis beverages attract huge investors
Last year, Bloomberg reported that Coca-Cola was in talks with Aurora Cannabis. Ultimately, the beverage giant decided not to form a partnership with Aurora for now. But this discussion triggered a lot of interesting responses, including one from Warren Buffet who advised Coca-Cola not to enter the cannabis industry. However, Francisco Crespo, Coca-Cola’s top global marketer said the brand takes a ‘never say never’ view on producing CBD beverages.
But Coca-Cola is not the only beverage giant interested in producing cannabis-infused drinks. Pepsi and Starbucks are watching the cannabis industry. Heineken already launched a cannabis-infused drink called Lagunitas Hi-Fi Hops. The company is selling three drinks, the first containing 10 mg of THC, the second 5 mg of THC and 5 mg of CBD and the third 18 mg of CBD with under 2 mg of THC.
AB InBev, the company that owns the Budweiser beer entered a joint partnership with Canadian cannabis giant Tilray. Each company invested $50 million (about €44.9 million) to research cannabis drinks containing THC and CBD.
Constellation Brands, the company that owns the Corona beer, invested $4 billion (about €3.6 billion) in Canopy Growth last year. In his interview with Strain Insider, Bruce Linton said the future of cannabis beverages might look like this:
‘The beverages I’m describing do not exist yet because we still have to figure out how to do it. They are going to be clear, they are going to have no carbohydrates, no calories.’
‘They are going to have a very light dosage, they are not going [to] metabolize and go through your gut. They are going to have a different track, so you get a consistent hit every time. You can sip it and have an onset that is rapid because of the route of access and we are going to brand them’, Linton added.
And Diageo, the company that owns the Guinness beer and Johnnie Walker whiskey mentioned it was keeping an eye on the cannabis industry, so you shouldn’t be surprised if other beverage companies will invest in cannabis drinks soon.
Why cannabis beverages will be popular in Europe
Earlier this year, Business Insider reported that young people are drinking less than older generations. The decline in drinking is surely connected to multiple factors, such as being more health-conscious, but it seems that the younger generations also tend to favour cannabis over alcohol.
Taking this information into account, it seems that beverage companies are investing in cannabis drinks to keep up with the trends. Cannabis drinks are also a good way of introducing novice consumers to cannabinoids. Drinking cannabis is discreet, doesn’t put your lung health at risk like smoking does and it’s also safe because the drinks have a regulated dose.
Most importantly, there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding cannabis. Many people still see smoking cannabis as a bad habit but will probably turn a blind eye to drinking. Drinking is socially acceptable in Europe, so cannabis beverages might also protect consumers from the stigma associated with smoking weed. Here’s what Bruce Linton said when he compared drinking cannabis to smoking:
‘… regulators who govern us are going to love them because nobody likes selling tobacco products. They never feel good about how to let you use them in a public space. Right now, everywhere in the world, they make you go further and further away from buildings to smoke. Beverages are the socially normal way.’
At the moment, European consumers can get their hands on a small selection of CBD drinks, but that’s about to change in the following years. As large companies invest in cannabis drinks, they will adapt their products to obey EU laws and subsequently sell them in supermarkets across Europe.