Cannabis Beverages: The Next Big Thing for the Industry?
Ben Hartman
July 23, 2020

It may have been a while since we all got together for happy hour after work, but imagine if you will, post-work cocktails in the era of cannabis beverages: team-bonding takes place under an avalanche of giggles and scarfed down appetizers, and no one is nursing a hangover at the office the next day. 

The cannabis beverage market has been portrayed as everything from the next frontier of the industry to the way to finally get “wine moms” and fellow travelers to use cannabis in a way that fits their vibe.

According to a BDSA Analytics report from June (“Cannabis Trends & The Impact on Beverage Alcohol”), cannabis beverages make up only 5% of the edibles market, which the cannabis industry analysis firm projects to total more than $4.1 billion by 2022. That may seem like a small percentage, but BDSA said that from 2019 to 2020, low THC cannabis beverage sales rose 69%, THC beverage “shots” rose by 61%, tea sales went up 14%, and carbonated cannabis beverage sales grew by 9%. 

These statistics have also shown that for the majority of people who consume both alcohol and marijuana, their alcohol consumption has not changed because of cannabis use, though around 24% noted that they reduce their alcohol consumption when combined with cannabis. 

And while its a cannabis segment on the rise, optimizing THC beverages for mass consumption is no simple matter.

  • Finding the Right Mix 

THC is fat soluble, which is why edibles are usually made using a base like cannabutter or coconut oil. This is also why so many people associate edibles with food like brownies or cookies. Because it is not water soluble, THC takes much longer to be metabolized by the body, which is why the onset can be well over an hour. 

Because it doesn’t break down in water, THC beverages have often had a gritty or chunky consistency, which some have even likened to spoiled milk. In recent years though, cannabis tech in the beverage space has focused on finding emulsifiers that can break down THC in water, which not only gives them a pleasant consistency but can also dramatically speed up onset. 

  • Sipping and Waiting Don’t Always Mix 

One of the problems with edibles is that not only do they take a long time to kick in, but the high can last for several hours — meaning that its a time investment that doesn’t quite gel with meeting some friends for a quick drink after work. 

The delayed onset means that people will have to pace themselves, perhaps nursing a drink or abstaining from a second one until they can gauge the effects of the first round. Even if this is dropped down to just 20 minutes, for some customers it could still disrupt the drinking rhythm.

  • Precision Can Be Tougher 

Gauging the effectiveness and dosage of THC is typically more difficult than alcohol. After all, most people can tell you how they’ll feel after four shots of vodka or a six-pack of beer. But 10mg of THC? 5mg? 20mg? Seasoned edible consumers should be able to gauge their reaction, but for the rest of the market, it could be a bit unclear. Also, if your ideal dose is 10mg, and the only bottle is 20mg, do you really want to stop after half a lemonade? What if your usual dose is a whopping 50mg and they only have 10mg bottles, should you find a way to drink 5? 

Like with all edibles, dosing requires a little trial and error, though once consumers find the dosage that works for them it’s not too complicated. 

  • Potential as an Alternative

The popularity of ingestibles can be linked largely to the fact that not everybody enjoys smoking or is able to due to health restrictions. Cannabis beverages have the added draw of allowing people to socialize and drink — without the drawbacks of alcohol. 

“This is a natural progression into looking at people who are concerned about wellness, who maybe want the occasion and experience of something that looks, tastes, and feels like a beverage alcohol product but has no calories, no hangover,” Brandy Rand, Chief Operating officer for the Americas at IWSR Drinks Market Analytics, told the Verve in July 2019.

Could cannabis beverages rocket to the top of the marijuana industry? They probably have no chance of challenging the throne of cannabis flower, but when the science and technology is there, and the consistency and onset time are optimized, it could be a major growth segment of the industry in the years to come, and it's high time for cannabis companies and marketers to hone their expertise and offerings when it comes to beverages.

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