Have you heard about cannabis drinks? Cannabis-infused drinks contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient found in Cannabis plants. These are not the same products as CBD-infused beverages. Cannabis-infused drinks have been available in the United States since 2010, and have recently surged in popularity. See more below.Cannabis-infused drinks contain the mind-altering ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These drinks, which can be purchased at dispensaries or online, contain various amounts of THC in addition to alcohol, caffeine, or other cannabis derivatives. The safety of these drinks has not been studied extensively in humans.
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.”
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.
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.
Do They Taste Good?
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.