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Cannabis and Alcohol: The Hazy Future of Weed in the Alcohol Industry

Cannabis and alcohol

Combining alcohol with weed is basically a tradition as old as time . Now, with legalization sweeping the nation, it only seems like a matter of time before THC starts popping up in a bar near you -- if it hasn’t already. But, what exactly will that look like?

Forbes Magazine recently sat down with Dr. Keith Villa, author of the book Brewing With Cannibis: Using THC and CBD in Beer, and the Director of CERIA Brewing Company in Colorado to get a sense of where the restaurant/bar industries could be heading. Villa says that mixing alcohol and cannabis together is still not legal -- and most likely won’t be for a while after the mixing of caffeine and alcohol in Four Lokos was squashed. 

Villa speculates that, whenever they are legalized, CBD and THC-infused beverages will be a goldmine because of all of the unexplored compounds of Cannabis. Once it is fully decriminalized, Universities and Labs will be able to conduct more in depth research on the topic. 

With over 100 Cannabinoids in the plant that have unexplored potential, Villa is excited for the new information to come and the new possibilities in the drinking scene. Some cannabinoids give the same effect of caffeine, while others minimize hunger or increase appetites which open up a world of possibilities in the bar/restaurant industry. 

Villa explains that drinking THC/CBD infused beverages with new nanoemulsion technologies will have the same desired effect of smoking in terms of the compounds entering the bloodstream, however it will theoretically take effect on the body and mind faster. He also speculates that smoking in public is falling out of favor due to asthma and social stigma in social situations. Villa predicts that sipping THC/CBD beverages will be the future of socializing in the coming years. Sounds good if you’re in the bar business!


Challenges to Overcome with Alcohol & Cannabis

Not everyone shares Villa’s enthusiasm for the new idea. Given the unreliable effects of marijuana from individual to individual, the learning curve of tolerance has also been a voiced concern. Take edibles for example; the effects of a gummy tend to hit the consumer a half hour or an hour after eating. 

Now put it in a social setting, where people are sipping and chatting away, the varied effects of THC-infused alcoholic drinks could be a liability for restaurants and bars. While it is easy to see how many joints you’ve smoked and pace yourself accordingly, it’s much harder to stop drinking when in a social setting. 

Mark Hunter, the CEO of Molson Coors has projected drinks to eventually make up 20 to 30% of cannabis sales and these drinks are marketed to either heavy cannabis users or beginners. This provides little room for those in the middle ground and creates challenges in both marketing and legal departments. 


The Money is There for THC Alcohol

Regardless of how people do (or don’t) feel about the intersection of THC and alcohol… the proof is in the pudding. 

Industry heavy-hitters like Constellation Brands (Modelo, Pacifico, Corona) have invested upwards of four billion dollars to Canopy Growth -- a Canadian based cannabis company.  

These considerable macro trends in alcohol and cannabis spaces have contributed to popular drinks like Lagunitas HIFI Hops -- a THC-infused, nonalcoholic beer. Other THC-infused brews like Two Roots and New Frontier have appeared as well, perhaps signaling an incoming wave of THC-alcohol fusions.


Navigating Protocols: More Questions and Concerns

With all of the concern and unknown variables, bartenders and restaurant managers will have to be mindful of new safety protocols and information. For example, it’s advisable to not deviate from proven canna drink recipes.

It’s not uncommon for a bartender to improvise and take instruction from the customers, but this will have to take a time out when integrating canna drinks into a bar or restaurant until consistent results are monitored. It is also important to remember that your stomach needs time (fifteen to thirty minutes) to absorb the marijuana compounds, and waiting even an hour would be advisable before taking a subsequent drink. 

Those who are brand spanking new to infused drinks are even recommended to only consume one infused drink a night. Experts also advise drinkers to experience their first canna drink in the comfort and safety of their own home, as cannabis and alcohol both act as sedatives and driving or navigating could be extremely dangerous. Many people also wonder and raise concerns about how marijuana infused drinks will taste. Due to the vastness of available strains, there isn’t a definitive flavor per se, only the guarantee that an herbal undertone will always be present. Green and leafy, with floral undernotes have been reported, with some drinks having almost a hint of  a sunflower flavor. 


Where is Wine in the Conversation?

Wine also has skin in the Cannabis infused drink game, although it isn’t quite such a hot topic as beer or liquor. 

Lisa Molynieux who works as a proprietor for the Greenway Compassionate Relief Inc. in Santa Cruz, California has developed her own line entitled Canna Wine in 2010. After tasting Cannabis infused wine and feeling the euphoric effects during an under-the-table introduction to the drink, she wanted to spread the joy. 

Canna Wine has since gained a large and enthusiastic following in more relaxed areas like Colorado and California. Needless to say the legislation is lagging and with all of the other concerns and unknown variables that accompanies the idea of cannabis- infused drinks, it’s a huge but intriguing question mark. 

With the push to reduce harmful and undesirable effects of hangovers, among other public health concerns surrounding alcohol and the unanswered questions of effects, safety protocols for restaurants and bars, it’s likely that canna drinks will not integrate into the majority of restaurants for some time. Experts in various fields will be able to use this time to consider all of these concerns and setbacks.


The Final Word

As of now, the future is hazy (pun intended). No one can be sure how cannabis and alcohol will come together, but a few current products certainly seem to be giving some indication. The final (and perhaps most impactful) piece of the puzzle will be legislation. As of now -- that’s a big ‘question mark’. 

Ryan Philemon


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