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Weed Drinks Are a Buzzy Alcohol Substitute. But Are They Safe?

By: Dani Blum

Business is booming for cannabis-infused beverages. Experts still know very little about their health effects

The mid-2010s were an era of ready-to-drink cocktails, which were eclipsed in more recent years by hard seltzers, those fruit-flavored fizzes perfect for barbecues and beaches. Now, weed drinks may be having their moment.

With recreational marijuana becoming legal in several states, cannabis-infused mocktails, seltzers and alcohol-free wines are hitting the market, often sold as a shortcut to a healthier high. These drinks are not the beverages that contain small doses of CBD, a compound found in marijuana and hemp that doesn’t get you high, which have been trendy for the last decade. Marijuana drinks are made with THC, the intoxicating substance in cannabis, and customers seem willing to try them. But doctors and cannabis researchers said marijuana beverages come with their own set of risks, and a long list of questions.

According to BDSA, a market research firm in Colorado that specializes in legal cannabis, dollar sales of marijuana beverages are up by around 65 percent from 2020 to 2021 in the 12 states they track. In California, the state with the largest market for weed drinks, the number of cannabis beverages available nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021, growing to 747 distinct products, according to Headset, a company that collects and analyzes data on cannabis.

Pabst, known for its Blue Ribbon beer, now sells lemon-flavored “High Seltzer,” a canned cannabis drink promising “a different kind of buzz.” The cannabis beverage company Cann calls its carbonated cocktails “social tonics”; it also sells “roadies,” cannabis-infused drink mix in ready-to-go foil packets. Rebel Coast, a California-based winemaker, makes cans of alcohol-free sparkling wine infused with 10 milligrams of THC.

Cannabis-infused beverages are often branded as a healthier alternative to alcohol — “No painful days after drinking or regrets,” a tagline on Cann’s site reads. These kinds of drinks carry a connotation of health, said Emily Moquin, a food and beverage analyst at Morning Consult. They tout themselves as “hangover-free” and without the high calories of alcohol; they claim to help you feel “focused,” balanced, relaxed. One cannabis beverage company even suggests pairing their drinks with a spa day.

But experts worry that products like weed drinks are becoming more popular than health research can keep up with, leaving big questions about how best to consume them and what impacts they may have on the brain and body.

Wait, we’re drinking weed now?

Just a few years ago, the idea of drinkable cannabis seemed far-fetched, said James MacKillop, director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at McMaster University.

Many past attempts to concoct cannabis beverages were often unsuccessful or unsatisfying because THC is hydrophobic — drop it into water and it will just form a sludgy goop on the sides of a glass. But in recent years, nanoemulsion technology, which can smoothly blend cannabinoids into a seltzer or cocktail, has become more widely available.

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