Cannabis hasn’t yet been a ‘buzz-killer’ to Big Alcohol. A recent liquor industry association study suggests that legal cannabis sales in three states – Colorado, Washington & Oregon – haven’t hurt alcohol sales. Spirit sales were up in all three states, and while wine and beer sales were down or flat, they continued their historical course.
Surprising? Probably not. The early thinking was that people already smoking or eating cannabis would continue to consume it, with many now acquiring it from legal sources. Same with people who enjoy a drink or two with friends. And until recently, the usage occasions were somewhat different and separate – burning or vaporizing cannabis flower is somewhat inconvenient and/or not always acceptable in many social situations.
But legalization is changing that. Some analysts are predicting that as cannabis becomes more socially acceptable (and more convenient), discretionary spending will start to shift more towards cannabis beverages from alcohol. And what’s more socially acceptable than sitting around with a few friends, enjoying a beverage or two? THC-infused beverages will be available in bottles and/or cans right out of the fridge and in flavors and formats we’ve come to know and enjoy. Many brands are hinting at rapid onset time (like 15 minutes) and contain no calories, and no threat of hangover. One brand is Ceria Brewing Co. that is producing a new cannabis-infused, nonalcoholic beer.
This isn’t your local pot dealer’s cannabis. The promise of newfound riches from beverages has seen well-funded multinational beer companies, like Molson Coors & AB InBev, enter into partnerships with cannabis companies (Hexo & Tilray respectively). And of course the monumental investment wine and spirits company Constellation made in Canopy Growth.
For every major announcement among the big players, there are dozens of smaller LPs and entrepreneurs working on their own cannabis beverages. Everyone is trying to create the next killer app! The fact is, creating a great cannabis beverage isn’t easy. Cannabinoids (THC, CBD) are hydrophobic; they are oily substances that tend to repel water and/or fail to mix with it – they are not water soluble. In fact, it would take over three litres of water to dissolve a standard 10mg edible dose of THC – a pretty inefficient way to get your THC buzz.
The hot technology that’s being deployed to solve the water solubility problem is nanoemulsion. I’ll skip the technical bits, but what you need to know is that the hype around nanoemulsion cannabis beverages is well-deserved; these products are convenient, fast-acting and predictable. The format is familiar to all and socially acceptable (versus smoking or vaping). The promise of 15-30 minute onset is faster than other cannabis edibles, and closer in line with beverage alcohols. Lastly, a nanoemulsion beverage can provide a uniform dosage and an experience that can be replicated.
It looks like cannabis beverages are a viable alternative to the status quo offered by the beverage alcohol industry. Opportunity or Threat? Friend or Foe?