Companies Turn to THC Beverages as Next Growing Legal Cannabis Market

Brands are looking into the untapped markets that may see the next surge in popularity, with many eyeing cannabis-infused beverages as the next big thing in cannabis.
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Just this year, outside players and big names like Jones Soda Company and Pabst Blue Ribbon have entered the cannabis game with their own lines of infused beverages. Cannabis beverages have offered their own array of benefits, including a faster metabolization process than many ingestible, food edibles, meaning that the cannabis effects typically hit the user much quicker.

There are already plenty of 10mg, single-serving options in the THC beverage world. However, companies like Rob Dyrdek and Diplo’s Leisuretown line have swooped in with low-dose options. Leisuretown beverages each have 2.5mg of THC and 5mg of CBD, made explicitly for folks looking to wind down throughout an entire evening without overindulging, emulating the experience of a night out with a few alcoholic drinks.

It’s a playground of sorts at this stage, a time for experimentation and innovation as these products still remain in a period of infancy compared to their ingestible counterparts, flower and concentrates.

And currently, cannabis beverages only represent about 1% of overall legal cannabis sales in the U.S. Though, that’s not to say the cogs aren’t moving—CNBC reports that the market is already getting crowded, with various companies like Leisuretown, Jones, and Pabst attempting to crack the code to create the first successful, mainstream THC beverage.

“The choice for consumers was not as wide in the past but now we’ve seen dozens of companies get involved in the cannabis beverage space,” said Amanda Reiman,vice president of public policy research at New Frontier Data, a cannabis firm tracking consumer habits.

Many companies continue to follow the 10mg model, the standard state-recommended single serving of edibles, for each drink. Other companies better known for their alcoholic offerings, like Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser; Constellation Brands, maker of Modelo Especial and Corona Extra; Lagunita Brewing Company; and Ceria offer a wider variety of doses, ranging from 2.5 to 10mg.

This isn’t to say that cannabis drinks are at all new. Keef Brands, for one, first culminated back in 2010 thanks to Boulder, Colorado’s Erik Knutson and friends. Knutson already knew the potential value in a cannabis-infused beverage—The Keef Cola was crucial to his vision.

The Keef Brands website recounts the first trial of Keef Cola, with Knutsen’s Grandma Dee, “because if an 85-year-old woman who’s never smoked cannabis in her life loves it, then they might just be onto something,” it reads.

Sure enough, Dee was a fan, and Keef was born.

More than 10 years later, Keef Brands CEO Travis Tharp is aware of the slow growth of the market, though he argues that it simply leaves more room for continued growth.

“There have been multiple false starts for anointing beverages the next big thing,” Tharp said. “But I think we’ve gotten to a point where we are showing that the year over year growth is something that is substantial.”

Keef has embraced a third approach, among their offerings of 10mg single serving drinks, with a 100-milligram mocktail Tharp likened to a bottle of hard liquor. Just as you wouldn’t drink a full bottle of hard alcohol in one go, this selection is meant to be enjoyed over time.

While 100mg beverages (which still come with methods of measurement to obtain single, state-recommended 10mg doses) may be a bit unusual compared to your typical 100mg offering of cookies or gummies—generally in 10 individual pieces—these products are also not brand new. Though, experts still worry that higher-dose THC in drinks could pose health risks.

And though fast metabolization and a quick onset can be beneficial, liquid edible highs carry the potential of being too intense or unpredictable, especially among novice users or anyone consuming too much, too quickly—arguably a concern regardless of the cannabis product involved.

One solution to mend these worries, Tharp said, is continuing cannabis research. He argued that one reason for the lack of research on cannabis, and the myriad ways folks can consume it, is its continued status as a Schedule I drug. New Frontier’s Reiman shared a similar sentiment, adding that, should cannabis see federal regulation, the Food and Drug Administration would study and regulate THC beverages.

This is, of course, a much more complicated puzzle. The lack of federal legalization also ensures that cannabis beverage makers must operate under a collection of state laws, leading to a disjointed supply chain that can hinder growth.

Ultimately, Reiman argued that the increasing social acceptance of recreational cannabis will usher in the success of THC beverages.

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

And it doesn’t appear that the cannabis world, and the potential for THC beverages, is slowing down. A January 2022 Fortune Business Insights projection showed that the global cannabis market is projected to grow from $915.06 million USD in 2021 to $19,063.58 million USD in 2028 at a CAGR of 54.31% throughout that period.

While nothing is certain, the phrase “going out for drinks” may soon have more than one fixed definition, so long as cannabis professionals and consumers have their way.

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