Companies hoping to capitalize on a growing market

Grainwave, a Belgian-style white, non-alcoholic cannabis beer, infused with THC at Ceria Brewing Co. at the Keef Cola facility on December 13, 2018.

Andy Cross | Denver Post | beautiful pictures

You can smoke it, vape it and eat it. Now, as more US states legalize recreational marijuana, companies are betting that people will want to drink it, too.

Weed-containing beverages are popping up in more places, with major beverage makers including Pabst Blue Ribbon and Constellation pushing into the market. Unlike drinks containing CBD, which have become more widely available in dozens of states, cannabis or weed drinks containing the psychoactive component of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, get people high and still federally prohibited in the United States.

In recent years, new emulsion technology has allowed THC to be mixed into a wide range of beverages. Now, beverage manufacturers are betting that people who don’t want to smoke or vape marijuana or drink alcohol for health or social reasons can find a cannabis alternative.

According to Amanda Reiman, vice president of public policy research for New Frontier Data, a cannabis company that tracks consumer habits, the market is getting crowded, even in its infancy.

“Consumer choice wasn’t as broad in the past but now we’ve seen dozens of companies enter the cannabis beverage space,” Reiman said.

Leveraging its experience in brewing beer and spirits, Pabst Blue Ribbon has begun selling its alcohol-free “High Seltzers” line. Each 12-ounce can contains 10 milligrams of THC, which the company says is “the right amount to have a good time.” The flavor features pineapple, mango, strawberry and lemon. They are sold online or at drugstores in states that allow medical or recreational use of marijuana.

Other beer and spirits companies that have entered the field include Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser; The Constellation brand, which makes up Modelo Especial and Corona Extra; Lagunitas Brewing Company; and Ceria. The line of weed-based beverages contains varying doses of THC — typically between 2.5 milligrams and 10 milligrams — to be mixed with water-based beverages only. Mixing marijuana and alcohol is prohibited in most states that allow marijuana use.

Brightfield Group, a cannabis research agency, estimates that cannabis-based beverages as a whole will account for $1 billion in sales in the US by 2025.

Into the weeds

While drinks represent only about 1% of all legal marijuana sales in the United StatesAccording to Travis Tharp, CEO of Keef Brands, which manufactures a wide range of cannabis products, that means the market has a lot of room to grow.

“There have been many false starts for anointing soft drinks,” says Tharp. “But I think we’ve come to a point where we’re showing that year-over-year growth is something very important.”

Keef, based in Colorado, has expanded to eight states where recreational or medical weed has been legalized, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. Among the company’s products is a 100-milligram mocktail that Tharp compares to a bottle of brandy.

“You shouldn’t finish a bottle of this on your first meal,” Tharp says. “You wouldn’t drink a full bottle of vodka.”

There are experts who worry that higher doses of THC in beverages could pose serious health risks. Although cannabis beverage brands are often advertised for their health benefits or to prevent a hangover, there is a lack of government-funded research on them.

Doctors warn that too much can be harmful to health.

Charles Michael White, dean of the University of Connecticut, said: “THC can increase the risk of paranoia, anxiety, even psychosis and hallucinations. “The higher the dose, the greater the risk and severity of these side effects.”

White said the consumption of liquid cannabis is still a mystery. It falls somewhere between inhaling cannabis, which produces an immediate high that causes the body to quickly leave the body, and ingesting it, which stays in the bloodstream longer with slow elevation. more, calmer.

With cannabis-infused beverages, he said high levels can be intense and unpredictable, especially if too much is taken in a short period of time.

Need more research

Tharp added that the THC beverage market has been hampered by a lack of research on responsible consumption, as well as few standardized policies and best practices.

“There’s not much research that can be done on it because cannabis is a drug with a unique history in the US,” he said, adding that this is one of the main barriers preventing the industry from expanding. enter mainstream trends faster.

A schedule one drug is a substance that currently has no medical use in the United States and is likely to be abused.

Reiman, of New Frontier Data, agrees. If legalized federally, she said the Food and Drug Administration would study and regulate THC drinks. That can put wary customers at ease and entice newcomers to take a sip.

In addition to research restrictions, today’s federal marijuana ban means that manufacturers of the cannabis beverage are largely operating under a patchwork of state law, creating a fragmented supply chain. This has prevented many companies from growing significantly, leading some to retreat from their efforts in the market and others to give up altogether.

Earlier this year, Anheuser-Busch end a partnership involved in the production of CBD and THC beverages, according to Hemp Today. The company says marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and its current focus in the US is on the beer category. It said it would monitor cannabis legalization efforts as conversations with policymakers continue.

With states including New York and New Jersey developing plans for the entertainment market, there is still potential to reach more consumers. And as legislation evolves in more mature state markets like California, there’s a push to have cannabis drinks sold alongside alcohol at lounges, clubs, restaurants and even shops. grocery.

Reiman said the growing social acceptance of recreational marijuana will also be the mainstream of THC drinks.

“Consumers are looking for something that will replace alcoholic beverages but allow them to consume it in the manner and environment they are used to consuming alcoholic beverages,” she said.

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