Here's What To Know About Cannabis Drinks
IF YOU'RE LOOKING for a way to up the fun with none of the alcohol after Dry January, cannabis drinks may be your answer.
From humble beginnings in Colorado and Washington in 2012, cannabis legalization has jumped to 21 states, along with Washington, D.C., and Guam. The market has skyrocketed since, it is projected that cannabis users globally will spend nearly $5 billion dollars annually on THC products by 2025.
With a popular market comes new products, and the cannabis industry is moving to drinks. This is possible in part by advances in emulsion technology, which allows us to mix two liquids together that typically would not mix. In this case, that's cannabis oil and water.
"Beverages are at the center of every gathering. From barbecues to holiday dinners, attendees have a beverage in hand—but hey, not everyone likes the effects of alcohol," says Troy Brosnan, co-founder of the Massachusetts based THC-infused seltzer company LEVIA. They jumped on the cannabis-beverage train early to produce "a beverage that still provided all the buzz, minus the hangover."
Though some drinks have been on the market since legalization, more companies are testing the THC-infused waters. Older, more established cannabis companies, such as VCC Brands, a high profile cannabis company out of California, are expanding their reach into beverages. They are further developing and expanding the reach of their seltzer, CQ. Even some big name beers companies, such as Pabst and Lagunitas, are popping into the THC-infused seltzer space.
But, is it safe? Are there side effects? Is it even legal? We have all your questions answered.
How Does it Differ From Smoking or an Edible?
Much like the traditional edible, if you drink your THC, you will likely not feel the effects as quickly as you would if you were to smoke it. But, the high may last longer, says Stephen Lankenau, Ph.D., professor and director of the Medical Cannabis Research Center at Drexel University.
With ingesting cannabis, the THC compound that produces the high effect needs to be metabolized in the liver before it reaches the brain, according to the National Library of Medicine. With smoking or vaping, this step is skipped, which is why you may feel high much quicker after hitting a joint or a vape.
Drinking your THC will produce the high effect faster than eating a gummy or a laced brownie, however. This is because of the process of emulsification, says Riley Kirk, Ph.D., lead scientist at Real Isolates, LLC, a Massachusetts-based biotech company focused on cannabis research.
"This process is necessary to allow the non-water-soluble THC to be water-soluble in the drink, and this process allows users to feel the effects faster," says Kirk. "Typically, THC-infused drinks can be felt within 20-30 minutes."
Does The 'High' Feel Different When Drinking THC?
There are more than 600 strains of cannabis, and they all produce a different kind of high. When it comes to drinking cannabis, the high will depend on which strand you choose, and how it interacts with your body.
"Products could be made with different types of cannabis extracts and result in different feelings although they contain the same amount of THC," says Kirk.
The two most common, indica and sativa, cause different kinds of highs. Indica is known to produce the more relaxing high, whereas sativa is typically more energizing, according to the National Library of Medicine.
The high from ingesting cannabis can be quite different from smoking or vaping, however. "Smoking or vaping cannabis bud typically feels different because there is the entire spectrum of molecules in the plant entering the body, resulting in a unique experience and the heat involved in smoking/vaping produces unique chemistry," says Kirk.
Drinking THC will have a similar high experience to taking an edible, such as a gummy or THC-infused chocolate.
Are There Side Effects?
Research surrounding cannabis drinks is too new to really know if there are any true side effects. However, there is plenty of research on the side effects of taking THC products in general.
The first, and most prevalent, being dependence. "High rates of cannabis use over an extended period of time can result in various forms of physical or psychological dependence," says Lankenau.
Risk of overdosing from cannabis alone are very low. But, the high state that the products cause can lead to risky situations. "Cannabis should be consumed in moderation and not combined with driving a vehicle or other recreational activities, e.g., biking, skiing, swimming," says Lankenau.
Dosing is key to controlling side effects of THC. If someone is new to THC products, and they take too much at one time, they "may experience untoward effects," Lankeau says.
Lankenau and Kirk both recommend the "low and slow" method when trying out cannabis products for the first time. Start at a low dosage, and allow plenty of time to pass before adding more to achieve your desired high.
Are There Any Benefits?
While more research is still needed, there's decent backup to show that cannabis can have some rather positive effects on our health.
"Medical cannabis patients, as well as recreational users, have long reported that cannabis is effective at reducing pain, anxiety, insomnia, and range of other medical conditions and clinical research studies are increasingly verifying these claims," says Lankenau.
While these drinks are not intended for medical use, the cannabis inside of them may produce some of these beneficial effects.
Are Cannabis Drinks a Good Replacement For Alcohol?
While all substances should be enjoyed in moderation, cannabis-infused drinks may be a more fun way to enjoy a night out.
"Compared to alcohol, the risk profile of cannabis in its various forms is generally lower," says Lankenau, noting that fatal overdoses with marijuana alone is negligible.
Alcohol has a much higher risk of fatal alcohol poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six people a day die of alcohol poisoning in the United States.
Alcohol can also have long term effect on our bodies. One of the most common being the development of fatty liver disease, which is liver damage caused by excessive alcohol intake.
"I do think there is backing to the claim that THC-infused drinks are a healthier alternative to alcohol. Alcohol acts very non-selectively in the body and can be very addictive," says Kirk. "With anything, there are negative side effects if products are used in excess, and moderation should be the goal with the consumption of substance."
Most cannabis drinks are only allowed to have 5 milligrams of THC per government regulation, which is a great starting point for novices. If it's your first time with THC, remember Kirk and Lankenau's "low and slow" method. Try a little bit at a time, and up the dosage slowly. Brosnan suggests drinking a half a can to start.
Do They Taste Good?
"We toured the country looking for existing, healthy cannabis product out there. We visited legacy markets consisting of California, Washington, and Colorado and stumbled upon some popular beverage brands," said Brosnan. "While these brands had success, we quickly realized how much sugar was used to mask the flavor of cannabis and emulsions."
All made with zero sugar and natural flavors, LEVIA boasts a series of flavors from raspberry lime, berry, to their Valentine's Day special—raspberry cheesecake. Advances in the technology of emulsification mean these drinks don't taste so strongly of weed— good news for all.
Is it Legal?
It all depends on where you live. While 22 states have legalized recreational marijuana, many more are presenting legislature to get there soon. Check here to see the full list.
Shipping THC across state lines is illegal, so these drinks are only available at registered vendors in legalized states. Regulatory guidelines vary depending on the state.
"In the state of Massachusetts, where LEVIA is manufactured, cannabis products are highly regulated," says Brosnan. "Before the [cannabis] even arrives at the LEVIA headquarters, it has gone through a rigorous testing process to ensure safety and to accurately measure potency."
If you're anywhere else with legalized recreational marijuana, and are looking to try a cannabis drink— it's important to vet out the brand you're buying to ensure the product contains safe ingredients. Make sure that the brand you buy from runs third-party laboratory tests to ensure quality ingredients. You can usually find this information on their websites.
Before trying anything, it's never a bad idea to talk to your doctor for more personalized advice on if marijuana is right for you.
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