Cannabis is difficult to effectively infuse into beverages. Cannabinoids are fat-soluble and not easily mixed with water. Edibles typically use butter or oil as a base, which binds well to cannabinoids when mixed. Theoretically, you could use an oil-based cannabis tincture to infuse a beverage. But since the oil will not dissolve fully in the beverage, within a few minutes it will rise back to the top, making dosing unpredictable when you take a sip.
Emulsification is the same process that keeps your salad dressings held together. But unlike a salad dressing (which eventually separates back out after a while), a cannabis emulsion has to be created on a nanoscale to work properly and deliver medicinal results.
Water-soluble cannabis is made to dissolve efficiently in water. The process implements the use of nanotechnology to produce nanoscopic droplets from the oil, resulting in a stabilized additive for beverages. Nanoemulsion doesn’t require a harsh solvent like alcohol, and can be seamlessly dropped into products like coffee, tea, and water. Many cannabis drinks have few or zero calories and the products pose little risk of a hangover, making them more alluring to a wide range of consumers.
Lots of retail stores throughout the U.S. now carry hemp-derived CBD beverages. The 2018 Farm Bill made industrial hemp legal and available Over-The-Counter. Hemp contains medicinal amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) and a negligible amount (less than 0.03%) amount of the psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
CBD hemp beverages are known to produce a calming, relaxing effect without the psychoactive component. These products typically contain microdoses, anywhere from 2 mg to 10 mg of THC per serving.
While CBD hemp beverages can be found in retail, health food, and grocery stores, Delta 9 THC-containing beverages can only be purchased at state dispensaries. Some dispensaries don’t have refrigerated display cases, making it harder to find them in your local shops.
Keef Brands was among the very first cannabis beverages to enter the medical marijuana market. They started selling 100-milligram THC colas to patients in Colorado in 2010. Keef’s Beverages (with the exception of Life H2O’s) are infused with Hybrid strains. Life H2O’s Blueberry Lemon is Indica dominant, Cranberry Lime is Sativa dominant, and Strawberry Kiwi is a hybrid mix.
Pedro Fonseca, director of retail for California dispensary chain Harborside, said drinks have become an important part of their product mix. “You can bring it to a barbecue and not have to get stoned off your rocker,” Fonseca said. “The stigma doesn’t always come with it like it would if you’re just rolling a blunt and smoking it.”
Because traditional edibles have to make their way through the digestive tract to the liver — where THC is metabolized, it can take up to an hour or longer to feel the effects. (And if you’ve just eaten a large meal or have a slower metabolism, it can take even longer.)
Nanoemulsions are thought to drop the onset time for THC to be felt to under 10 minutes. The nano-sized droplets penetrate the mouth, throat, and stomach instead of needing to be processed through the liver to become active the way edibles do.
You may also find products like nano–drop squeeze bottles and cannabis powders, also made via nanoemulsion,, to be dispersible in water. The resulting liquid emulsion is then spray dried to form a water soluble powder. Powders and nano drops are intended to be added to water before ingestion, and when mixed, will dissolve to create a seltzer-like beverage. These products are often marketed to those who want to microdose cannabis slowly throughout the day while “on-the-go”.
One patient, Sal, said he prefers water soluble/nano-THC because of the absorption time. “I have digestive issues, and the acid in my stomach will break down the THC in traditional edibles which makes it difficult for any THC to even reach my liver for metabolization. With nano-THC, the absorption happens in the soft tissue in the mouth and esophagus, which in turn leads to a much faster/more effective product in terms of crossing the blood-brain barrier while retaining potency. Also [the effects] [the effects] will kick in MUCH faster.”
Another patient offers a great tip for a unique way to make a cannabis beverage: Take a near-empty edible honey jars or Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) syringes and boil them in water with a little coconut oil to make a hot tea beverage. The patient noted that this was a great use for getting out the very sticky remains lodged in the corners of the jar or syringe.
While THC is soluble in alcohol, it remains illegal to combine alcohol and cannabis in the United States. Despite this fact, some of the world’s biggest beer companies have invested in cannabis drinks. Craft brewers like Lagunitas Brewing Company in California and Atlanta-based SweetWater Brewing Company have also gotten into the business.
Unlike cannabis, alcohol has no medicinal effects and can be harmful to those who abuse it. A point that is made time and time again by both patients and industry experts is that cannabis beverages could be helpful for those interested in reducing their alcohol consumption. One cannabis beverage company, LeHerbe, states on their website that: “We think the world would be a better place if you consumed more cannabis and less alcohol.”
Whatever your reasons for choosing cannabis beverages as your method of consumption, it’s important to start low and go slow, just like with any other medical marijuana product. Cannabis beverages can pack a punch of 100 mg of THC (or more) and can be very sweet and tasty. The onset of cannabis beverages is also much quicker than with traditional edibles, so be prepared to feel the effects within 5-10 minutes as opposed to an hour or more.
Be sure to understand the dosage you are consuming and remember that you can always store unused portions in the refrigerator for later. Also take care to ensure this form of medicine is well-marked and properly stored to prevent accidental ingestion, just like any other medical cannabis product. Overall, cannabis beverages can be a great way to medicate! To learn more about cannabis beverages, ask your dispensary budtender.
Author: Gabrielle Dion Visca
Gabrielle has been writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries for more than 20 years. She’s held positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop. She currently writes articles about medical marijuana for Duber Medical, and is the founder of the Ohio cannabis journalism non-profit, MedicateOH.