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3 Reasons Why Cannabis Beverages Might Actually Live Up to the Hype

Interested in learning more about THC beverages? Visit: www.drinkhemp.com

(Clarification: when I say “cannabis beverage” = a beverage with delta-9 THC derived from cannabis or hemp.)

For a category that has only recently shown signs of meaningful growth, cannabis beverages have received immense hype for the past few years as the potential “future of drinking.” I have spent almost 2 years directly involved in and watching the space, sifting through every article, LinkedIn post, or other form of content I could find. Despite the many naysayers, there are still some hard-core evangelists who are unimpressed by the results so far and believe that this category will majorly disrupt the BevAlc space.

Why are people so crazy about cannabis beverages? Why are they supposedly such an important category of adult beverages?

Here are three core reasons why I believe cannabis beverages have the potential to be one of the biggest categories in both the cannabis and adult beverage spaces.

1. Cannabis beverages have the best chance of any product category to truly normalize and de-stigmatize cannabis.

In a recent Gallup poll, a whopping 70% of Americans supported the legalization of recreational cannabis. And with new markets coming online each year, nearly 50% of Americans now live in a jurisdiction where recreational cannabis is legal. About half the country has tried cannabis at least once, and nearly 20% use it regularly.

Despite this, the stigma still absolutely remains. Even in “legal” states, many towns ban retail stores and home deliveries. In California, 0.5 grams of cannabis is taxed at 40 times the rate of a 12oz beer. Most schools and parents teach their children that alcohol use is normal (at the right age), but unfairly group cannabis in with many other hard/illegal drugs that are extremely unsafe and dangerous. If you are in your 30s, 40s, and older, try pulling out a joint or edibles at a dinner party where everyone is drinking. You will likely get some unfair looks for a drug that is basically impossible to overdose on, and is arguably much safer than alcohol.

I believe that cannabis beverages have the best chance out of all products (besides traditional candy edibles) to de-stigmatize cannabis use because social drinking is so ingrained in our culture. For thousands of years, people have gathered together and shared alcoholic beverages. Drinking is associated with different religions, cultural holidays, festivals, athletic events, family gatherings and many other activities around the world.  People are very accustomed to social drinking, and alcohol has been the social lubricant of choice that helps people take the edge off, let loose, and connect with others.

I would argue that low-dose THC beverages are about as close as you can currently get to a true alcohol replacement. With the right expertise, it is possible to create a seltzer, mocktail, beer, or other adult beverage that tastes nearly identical to its alcoholic counterpart, delivers a social buzz, and avoids the dreaded hangover.

The other thing to consider is that until recently smoking has been the most popular delivery method for cannabis, and it makes sense why it has been so stigmatized:

  • The United States was one of the most successful countries in the world in significantly reducing its population of cigarette-smoking citizens.

  • Cannabis has a very pronounced smell that not all people enjoy.

  • No matter what you smoke, there is never anything good about putting smoke in your lungs, and there will always be valid health concerns.

Cannabis beverages are smoke and smell-free, they look and taste just like your favorite seltzer or RTD cocktail, and can be consumed in the same convenient and discrete manner that alcohol can. I am a firm believer that once they reach critical mass, cannabis beverages will be a true trojan horse for introducing cannabis use into the lives of more Americans.

2. Cannabis beverages are the most approachable form factor for inexperienced users.

Picture this: you are a middle-aged adult. You have drunk alcohol your entire life, and while you still enjoy it, it does not keep up with your current lifestyle. You have a full-time job, a spouse, a house to take care of, maybe a few kids, and the jam-packed schedule that usually comes with that.  You can’t afford hangovers and groggy mornings. You have kid-induced early wake-ups, fitness goals, chores to get done, and a career on which to focus.

I think a lot of Americans have felt trapped in this endless cycle with alcohol where it continues to let them down, but they aren’t sure how they would ever quit given it is a staple at most social events. While quitting alcohol or things like Dry-January have become more popular in the last few years, there still hasn’t been a true replacement for someone who still wants a social buzz but wants to avoid the negative effects.

Recreational cannabis was available as an alternative, but there were two main problems with it:

  • Incompatible form factors: you can’t pull out a joint at a kid’s birthday party, and taking an edible and then standing around waiting for it to kick in is a bit awkward. Smoking is also a bit intimidating for a brand-new user.

  • Dosing: When smoking, it is impossible to regulate how much of a dose you are getting; it is really just a guessing game. The effects can also be instant and overwhelming. Edibles are very precisely dosed, but there is no way to ease into it; just down the hatch and hope for the best.

Introducing… beverages! Cannabis beverages are the first product where you can easily dose incrementally, and over many sips/cans you can find the right level of buzz for you. Thanks to advancements in emulsion technology, the THC in cannabis beverages is water-soluble and homogenous, so you are getting an evenly distributed dose as you sip your way to the bottom. Most beverages can be felt in 10 - 20 minutes depending on the dose and your tolerance, which is a major improvement from the 1 - 2 hour wait time that typically followed old-school edibles.

Most people are familiar with alcohol, and alcohol consumption is pretty easy to understand: the more liquid you drink and the faster you drink it, the faster and more intensely you will feel its effects. Before cannabis beverages, there was not a great equivalent to this in the cannabis world. But now that the delivery method and technology have caught up, I think even after just one or two tries, adults will easily wrap their heads around how to implement this new product category into their lives.

3. Many Americans are tired of alcohol, and Gen Z is drinking less than prior generations.

The rise of health and fitness influencers like Andrew Huberman and the popularity of fitness wearables like the Apple Watch and Whoop show that Americans are beginning to take their health more seriously. And the data from Gen Z proves this: Gen Z is drinking 20% less alcohol than Millennials, and they are twice as likely to use cannabis when compared to other Americans. Gen Z wants to let loose and have fun just as much as prior generations did, but they want to do so in a more mindful manner, and they don’t want to sacrifice their health. Considering that most cannabis beverage brands don’t have much of a significant social media presence yet (besides maybe Nowadays or Cann), I think the Gen Z demographic is largely untapped for cannabis beverages. Once someone cracks the code and gets a few loyal consumers, there will be a flood of new adopters.

Even the older generations of America are catching on to the health and wellness wave too. It seems that every year Dry January is bigger and better than before. Athletic Brewing Co, a company devoted to making non-alcoholic beers, is now the 13th largest craft brewer in the US and is expanding distribution internationally. Heineken Zero did over $80 million in sales in 2022. Consumers are quickly realizing there are now great-tasting alternatives to alcohol, and every year more Americans will flock to this category. Whether cannabis beverages are truly a “dry” beverage is a discussion for another time, but if people can get this excited about non-alcoholic beer, wait until they hear about seltzers and mocktails that can get them buzzing without a hangover.

Provided there are no radical changes in the next US Farm Bill, I think cannabis beverages are perfectly poised to be a dominant category within 3 - 5 years.  With BevAlc distributors finally taking notice and picking up brands, and the high volumes some cannabis beverage brands are doing through e-commerce, I think summer 2024 has the potential to be one of the biggest moments for cannabis beverages ever.

About Me

Hey! I’m Daniel, a Boston native and cannabis beverage enthusiast. I worked directly in the cannabis beverage space for a year and a half, and have been involved in a variety of startups through my professional career. I am passionate about cannabis/NA beverages, sustainability, fintech, CPG, and consumer-facing brands with meaningful missions.