Now that you've been properly educated about cannabidiol a.k.a. CBD through our extremely detailed guide on the subject, it's time to elevate to the next level of this trending topic—beverages. Last summer, Dirty Lemon introduced a special cannabis blend to its roster in collaboration with Bebeo that sort of became the Four Loko of CBD drinks before it was discontinued toward the end of 2018 for reasons unknown. (Since then, Four Loko has added a hemp flavored malt beverage—note that there is no hemp, CBD, or THC in the formula, it merely "mimics the flavor people think of when they hear hemp" as stated in the press release.)
With cannabis reform continuing to sweep the nation, CBD has been the big buzz in the small business world for about a year--there have been a series of in-depth pieces about the national phenomenon published in places like the New Yorker, New York Times, and The Atlantic. While the legal status of cannabis varies from state to state, it should be noted that the cultivation of hemp was legalized in the U.S. through last year's Farm Bill Act. However, there still isn't a standard protocol in terms of regulation which is probably why more retailers are playing it safe by stocking hemp-based CBD products.
Consulting a doctor or pharmacist before consuming CBD in any form is always recommended as researchers are still studying the risks associated with it—possible side effects include dry mouth, light-headedness, and drowsiness. CBD also reportedly changes how pharmaceutical medication is metabolized in the body so that's something else to be careful about. Dr. Steven Zodkoy, a chiropractor and board certified nutritionist, recommends CBD beverages that are third party tested with a set dosage per serving like Cloud Water, VYBES, Recess and Sweet Reason.
As far as the difference between CBD derived from industrial hemp and cannabis, Dr. Chris Louizos, Director of Education at BlueSky Biologicals, states that the effectiveness is mostly the same. As he explains, cannabis is typically harvested from the plant’s buds so it contains greater amounts of THC whereas industrial hemp typically contains larger amounts of CBD and sometimes non-detectable levels of THC. Overall, CBD supposedly helps with issues related to anxiety, insomnia, burnout, chronic pain, and PTSD in addition to increasing stamina and the ability to focus.
The oral consumption of CBD in the form of a beverage is probably the easiest entry-points to the compound because it is highly accessible with a lower cost and risk factor. Dr. Louizos believes that beverages are at the forefront of the CBD space because of the product innovation. He adds, "the biggest benefit of the oral consumption of CBD-infused products is that it allows for a different and sometimes preferable route of administration."
Inhabitants of New York or Los Angeles have probably noticed a variety of CBD beverage brands popping up on the shelves of local cafes, stores, and boutiques. Ahead of being hit with what will ultimately be the next wave of cool CBD consumption, we spoke to the brains behind VYBES, Recess, Sprig, Cloud Water, and Sweet Reason to learn more about what they all have to offer.
Established in 2015 by Michael Lewis, Sprig originally started out of California as a THC beverage company offering consumers a slightly healthier alternative to smoking marijuana. At the time, Lewis believed that beverages would be a better vehicle for cannabis consumption because high dose edibles didn't necessarily look or taste good. Sprig currently sells four high quality sodas with 20 mg of CBD in three flavors—citrus, lemon tea, and melon—so people have a variety of 12 oz cans to choose from.
"We just really wanted people to understand that this product can go in any number of directions depending on what you like," he says. "Some folks like soda, some folks like tea, there's obviously a big push in sparkling water, and then we plan on offering you know even a wider variety of beverages in the near future."
As a socially positive brand, Sprig wants to educate people about the benefits of CBD. Lewis describes their customers as people who are "more excited about the health and wellness instead of the intoxicating side." The brand's tag line is "Smile More" because of the "uplifting and energetic buzz" that the products provide. (It typically takes about 30-45 minutes to kick in.) Lewis adds, "We're trying to get people to relax a little bit, maybe try to chill from all the negativity that's out in the world right now."
Sprig is distributed through mainstream retailers with the intent of expanding to national grocery stores so the product is easily accessible to everyone rather than an "ultra premium product" with a high price point that only a select audience can afford. Lewis wants Sprig to be in the mass market which is why the brand has developed a manufacturing relationship with a handful of Pepsi bottlers to reach even more people. Starting this summer, Sprig will be rolling out even more products so expect some "new and exciting beverages" to be thrown into the mix.
"There's a lot of people getting into CBD and it's hard to tell who's trying to go legitimately and who's not," he says. "Because we've been around for the few years, people kind of trust us a little more. They know we're here to stay and we're committed to putting out a really great product."
Even though VYBES has only been on the market since 2018, the Los Angeles-based brand is pushing functional CBD beverages to the public with a line of flavorful drinks that are low in calories and sugar with a light, water-soluble formula and 25 mg of hemp CBD grown in Colorado. The overall mission of VYBES is to "improve your emotional well-being," something that founder Jonathan Eppers can personally speak to since CBD has enhanced the quality of his life—he even includes a manifesto that outlines his whole journey on the bottles.
After leaving the chaos of the tech world in 2016, Eppers turned to CBD as a treatment for the debilitating anxiety he suffered from on a regular basis. He realized that a CBD beverage was the best approach to reaching more people because the act itself is already a part of everyone's daily routine whereas tinctures and capsules are more medicinal in practice.
Eppers is a foodie at heart and approached the flavors like a mixologist which is how VYBES ended up with peach ginger, blueberry mint, and strawberry lavender. They also offer a pair of sparkling beverages in blackberry ginger and maracúa. Eppers is deliberate about where VYBES is sold—he wants to specifically get it into the hands of tastemakers, trendsetters, and people who are constantly on-the-go so places that are already trusted for their selection of wellness products so they can work around the hurdle that is the FDA's policies about health claims.
Despite the obstacles, Eppers is confident that congress will resolve the legal issues surrounding CBD with the FDA. He is fully committed to making VYBES the company that is leading the CBD beverage industry and challenging anxious people to take better care of themselves with the use of a natural remedy as they go about living these "fast-paced, chaotic lives" in a modern world. Combating living in the modern world. VYBES also carries a collection of hand pourn candles and other merchandise. VYBES is bigger than a beverage—it's a lifestyle built around a brand.
"When I designed the packaging, I designed it to be an accessory in peoples hands," he says. "To see someone with one of our bottles, it kind of tells you something about that person. My hope is that it tells you they value their well-being, that this is a person who's in a calmer state, so maybe they're more approachable versus someone you see drinking a Red Bull."
Back in February, it was hard to go into any millennial-targeted place in New York without spotting a can of Recess labeled with the three C's: calm, cool, and collected. The brand's slogan is "we canned a feeling" which refers to the universal experience of wanting to escape from things that make us feel overwhelmed, off center, and out of control. He doesn't want people to feel relaxed—Recess is for taking a mental break to get back into a state of flow.
Founder and CEO Benjamin Witte describes himself as a "wired, hyper, anxious, ADD" type of person; he relies on CBD as a method for stress relief and productivity. He views Recess as a recreational wellness company that creates products and experiences to help people be their most productive and centered selves. Everything goes back to being a distinct design decision from the color of the cans to the style of the font.
Recess currently offers three sparkling waters with 10 mg of hemp CBD that are rich in complexity due to the combination of dominant and complimentary flavors. Needless to say that blackberry chai, pomegranate hibiscus, and peach ginger are far more sophisticated than the average can of La Croix. Witte took things a step further with the brand's pop-up store in Noho which served as a space where people could basically walk directly into the brand's Instagram.
Witte has big plans for Recess including branching out to the west coast and even installing vending machines. Additional products like dissolvable tablets and additives are also in the works. Outside of that, Witte also wants Recess to be a brand that cultivates a collective and sponsor creatives. He adds, "We design flavors, and another thing we're designing is a feeling."
Founded by Canadian entrepreneur Hilary McCain, Sweet Reason is a 100% women owned and operated company based in Toronto and New York making sparkling hemp CBD-infused waters that enable consumers to "slow down, relax, and pursue a life well-lived." Since December of 2018, the brand has introduced three flavors that are a pure "botanical inspiration"—cucumber mint, strawberry lavender, and grapefruit. Each bottle contains 7 mg of hemp CBD, no sugar or sweeteners, and racks up a whopping five calories so it's both "delicious and drinkable."
McCain's interest in CBD initially developed when she noticed more people in Canada's food industry pivoting to the cannabis industry, and from there she started learning more about the benefits of cannabinoid which aligned with her passion about mental health. She is fascinated by the idea of a large portion of the population replacing alcoholic beverages with cannabis beverages that mirror the effects in a positive way in the not-so-distant future.
“CBD is a great place to start because it has so many everyday uses for people. A lot of people that haven’t explored or consumed the plant in many, many years or ever are open to CBD because of all of the health benefits," she says. "We believe in creating products that follow the science of cannabis and bringing the health benefits of cannabinoids to people in a very approachable way like beverage.”
Sweet Reason is mostly sold out of bodegas, independent retailers, and smaller stores located in New York due to CBD beverages pending approval from the FDA. (As of right now, they're the only CBD beverage brand carried at Dean & Deluca.) McCain adds, “We want to be everywhere our consumers are - not just in your local bodega, but also in your yoga studio, stretching studio, the bar you go to at night, your office, etc."
Newly introduced to the market this year, Cloud Water is making a splash in New York with a yummy batch of all-natural flavored sparkling waters that are loaded with 25 mg of hemp CBD and sweetened with raw honey. CEO Marc Siden is cognizant of the fact that CBD beverage is a crowded market space, but Cloud Water envisions a path where the product creates a premium experience with their customers. For transparency purposes, Cloud Water shows their lab results on the website and makes sure that the packaging is compliant with the FDA's conditions.
"The community that we're building actually resonates with that and it's a little different than just grabbing something out of a cold case that has CBD in it," he says. "This is an industry that's growing very rapidly. There's also ever changing regulatory landscape... What we're doing is sitting back and saying, 'Look, it's a pure, all-natural beverage. Here are the ingredients, let us know how you feel.' That's what building a community is all about."
Over time, Cloud Water aspires to expand beyond the beverage category—after all, their motto is "Hydrate. Elevate. Motivate." By educating more people about CBD through their evolving roster of products, Siden hopes that consumers will become more passionate about the brand as well.