Buzzwords - Cannabis paves the way for new wave of psychedelic soft drinks

Earlier this year, US Senator Chuck Schumer proposed legislation to legalise marijuana at the federal level, bringing cannabis-infused drinks one step closer to the mainstream. But as herbal highs reach new heights, which ingredients will provide the buzz? And what other highs might be around the corner? Soft drinks commentator Lucy Britner takes a look.

It’s safe to say that this year’s THC launches have been plentiful. They include the likes of Loki’s THC seltzers, Hill Street Beverage Co’s Via Regal Pink Grape Sparkler and Herbacée’s range of zero-abv wines infused with THC and CBD.

The consumer quest for a non-alcoholic buzz is expanding

While we can expect to see a lot more THC and CBD products - especially if cannabis becomes legal on a federal level in the US, as proposed by Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer - there will also be some competition. The quest for a non-alcoholic buzz is expanding, driven by the cannabis movement but also buoyed by all sorts of other functional ingredients - including other cannabinoids.

At the end of July, Horizon Beverages rolled out Bimble to Rhode Island. Bimble contains a blend of cannabinoids including CBD, CBN, CBC and CBG. In the same month, Keef Brands set out to look beyond THC and CBD with the launch of a range of three drinks in its Life H2O line that contain THCv, CBG or CBN. According to the company, studies have shown that the THCv cannabinoid produces energising effects, as well as having the “potential for suppressing one’s appetite”. CBG is “non-psychoactive with reported antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory” qualities, while CBN “reportedly can be used as a sleep aid”.

“The new Keef Life H2O products mark the beginning of a new chapter that goes beyond using the traditional THC active ingredient, and work to enhance the functional properties and potential wellness benefits of our products in tandem with our focus on great taste and high bioavailability,” says Keef Brands CEO Travis Tharp. “The possibilities for integrating cannabis into every aspect of our lives, from fitness to rest to concentration and beyond, are nearly limitless. We as an industry and cannabis community are at the nascent stages of utilising over 300 different active ingredients.”

That’s a huge playground for new product developers.

It won’t make the walls melt and the trees change colour - it will expand your consciousness

Some soft drinks makers are looking beyond cannabis altogether. Enter Psychedelic Water, a Canadian brand that has become a TikTok sensation. The drink is made with kava root extract, damiana leaf extract and green tea. Psychedelic Water is described as a mood booster and, thanks to the kava, is designed to make the drinker feel happy and relaxed. In answer to the question, “Is kava psychedelic?” the company says: “Yes. It won’t make the walls melt and the trees change colour, but it will expand your consciousness.”

Psychedelic Water also advises against driving after drinking the product and warns against mixing it with alcohol.

Elsewhere, Zolt, which is based in New Jersey where recreational marijuana use is legal, has released a terpene-botanical product line that is said to replicate hemp benefits. The company cites attributes such as stress relief, improved cognition and better sleep.

“Looking beyond hemp to further tap into the potential of plants and fungi was key,” says Doug Siegel, Zolt’s co-founder & CEO. “We’d found a lot of success with mainstay adaptogens and antioxidants with our legacy formulations, but emerging research into plant terpenes and fungi helped us push our new products even further in terms of their functional benefits - that’s the future of mood-enhancing and experiential beverages. And, that future is here.”

Free Rain’s Arousal is set to “nourish libido and enhance sexual energy”

Meanwhile, “adaptogen-enhanced” sparkling water brand Free Rain has announced the launch of Arousal, a drink set to “nourish libido, enhance sexual energy, and support hormonal balance”. The drink is made with a 500mg dose of Maca, a Peruvian herb that “has been used for centuries to increase libido and arousal”, the company says.

As more THC and CBD drinks enter the market, soft drinks producers will continue to explore cannabis’ many other cannabinoids in order to create beverages that cater for even more need-states. At the same time, we can expect to see more herbal ingredients that claim to have some buzz-worthy functional benefits.

Besides serving consumers something new, these kinds of drinks bring with them many questions. Will consumers be able to mix and match their functional needs in Freestyle-like vending machines - and what might regulators have to say about this? Will companies have to prove their mind- or mood-altering claims? And if they can’t, could there be a consumer backlash?

Further down the line, as the cannabis market matures, could these cannabinoid-laced drinks pave the way for other drugs to become the subject of legalisation - and how might they be used by the soft drinks industry?

A mental acuity drink might help uncover the answers.