The smell of alcohol never fails to make me gag.
It doesn’t matter how long they’ve aged the whiskey, or which perfect year the wine grapes were picked, a lifetime of trying every single kind of drink or shot someone has shoved in my face has never turned me onto the stuff.
My strategy for a night of drinking usually consists of getting the sweetest or most fruity flavored selection on the drink menu, and taking tiny sips of the same glass until the night is over.
And even if, one day, I could miraculously overcome my aversion to the taste, it just makes me feel terrible. And not your typical “wake up the next morning with a foggy head full of forgotten regrets” kind of terrible.
The moment the alcohol touches my lips, my face gets bloated, red splotches begin to appear all over my body, sweat drips down my temples and I start to have trouble breathing.
Over the years, it’s taken a toll on my social life. Whether at a party, on a date, or out for drinks with mates, I’m always asked the same questions after my first sip-induced allergic reaction: Are you drunk already?
No, I’m not already drunk. Like many other people from East Asian countries such as China, Korea, and Japan, I suffer from what’s called the Asian Glow.
This is because I have a mutated version of an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2), which is typically used to break down a toxic compound found in alcohol. Not only does it cause the immediate aforementioned flushing reaction, it’s also six to 10 times more likely to cause certain forms of cancer to develop. 36 percent of East Asians, and over 540 million people in the world also have this same mutated enzyme. And so we’ve had to find ways to cope.
For decades, some have opted to take Pepcid or Zantac – which can reduce the severity of the blush, but doesn’t do anything about lowering cancer risks.
Sometimes, I just pour the drink onto the floor or in the sink when nobody’s looking.
Luckily, another alternative is on the way: cannabis and CBD drinks.
Cannabis drinks to the rescue
The idea of having a drink in my hand at a party that isn’t a can of coke is a thrilling prospect. I could invite people over to my place for drinks that I could actually partake in myself.
“People are very uncomfortable in social settings. You need something to do with your hands. It’s part of our culture,” explained Dooma Wendschuh, co-founder and CEO of Province Brands, a company releasing a non-alcoholic cannabis beer.
According to Wendschuh, data shows states that legalized marijuana use have seen a decrease in fatalities associated with weed. “People are substituting cannabis with alcohol, and it’s a positive thing for society,” he said.
EY’s most recent consumer insights report showed 40 percent of respondents saying they are very likely to try cannabis infused beverages once they become available during Canada’s second wave of cannabis legalization beginning in October.
And while Deloitte’s 2019 Canadian cannabis consumer report showed that only 3 percent of survey correspondents said they currently consume cannabis beverages, 37 percent intend to use them once they become available.
Just like me, 35 percent of these respondents indicated they intended to consume them as an alternative to alcohol. And 40 percent said it was to have fun with friends.
The report also predicted the cannabis-infused beverages market could reach a market value of C$529 million, much higher than the runner up, topicals (C$174 million).
“When it comes to cannabis beverages, the train has left the station,” said Wendschuh, who believes that cannabis beverages have the potential of being the number one way cannabis is consumed in Canada.
Several beverage companies have announced their partnerships with cannabis companies to develop their own lines of cannabis drinks, such as the Truss Beverage (Molson Coors-Hexo Corp. joint-venture), Hill Street Beverage Co. and Collective Arts Brewing.
“Like yourself, there are people who have adverse reactions to alcohol, or want to avoid having a hangover, but still want to be able to socialize,” said Cole Miller, the Director of Cannabis at the Iconic Brewing Company.
“People are more concerned with the health effects of alcohol, the amount of calories they consume, so they are minimizing the amount they drink.”
Lisa Campbell, co-founder of Lifford Cannabis Solutions and part of the Lifford Wine and Spirits family legacy, said her experiences in the alcoholic beverages market shows a clear path being paved for the cannabis beverage market to flourish in Canada.
“Beverages are our niche. First we looked at the explosion of cocktail culture, then mocktails were the biggest trend of last year. We saw people add many alcohol free choices,” said Campbell. “I really see cannabis beverages as the next evolution of that trend, where we’ve seen people step away from alcohol as a choice.”
Who else wants cannabis beverages?
As much as cannabis infused beverages appeal to my alcoholic allergy-prone sensibilities, I was surprised to learn about who else would be interested in them.
“Look at people who are under medication,” said June Nicholson, co-chair of the Canadian Beverage Producers Alliance (CBPA), a not-for-profit comprised of 10 companies from the alcohol and cannabis industries advocating for consumer- and industry-friendly regulations governing cannabis beverages.
“These people are under doctor’s orders not to consume alcohol,” said Nicholson, who explained that nearly one third of Americans are under alcohol prohibited medication.
Cole Miller also saw the market potential of this demographic, “especially with the 50 plus demographic, where those people are taking medications they aren’t supposed to be taking with alcohol, cannabis is going to have little to no adverse effects with many of these medications.”
Lisa Campbell believes that seniors, especially those in seniors homes, also won’t be able to smoke or vape, and would be particularly interested in cannabis tea.
And according to Deloittes cannabis report, tea is going to be very popular.
“Canadian cannabis consumers really like their cannabis-infused tea—it’s the most popular cannabis beverage choice of both current (57%) and likely (53%) consumers, especially among older consumers.”
Companies such as Oki, a line from Phivida Holdings, are releasing cannabis teas that are pre-brewed, which the report claims is how prospective beverage customers would prefer to consume them.
The company’s line of CBD-iced teas, recently voted reader’s top choice by the Beverage Industry, has become available in several U.S. states. The company also reached an agreement with Safeway to be distributed in their Colorado retail stores.
Phivida’s CEO, Jim Bailey, said that the recent success of his products are a result of a growing wellness market. “When we do consumer research, you ask what the number one luxury today is – it’s health and wellness.”
Bailey also believes CBD teas and waters appeal to those having issues with sleeping and stress. “We are in a society that’s massively stressed out, and people aren’t sleeping the way they used to sleep,” said Bailey, whose research showed 71 percent of respondents using CBD beverages for anxiety, and 64 per cent for insomnia.
In addition to these functional benefits, the Deloitte report indicated that 39% percent of potential cannabis beverage consumers would try them because they don’t want to smoke or vape cannabis.
“I think everyone would prefer not to have to go outside in the winter to smoke, and to reduce their risk of cancer,” said Wendschuh.
Health Canada rules also limit cannabis-infused drinks to having 10 milliliters of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per package. This is helpful information for someone like me, who’s had issues in the past with not knowing how to gauge how much TCH I was taking in.
Greening out: onset and offset times
It had been several years since I last smoked cannabis. I was excited to share a spliff with a friend at our mutual friend’s independent musical held in his living room.
The setting was perfect for another joint about half an hour later: intimate seating, about 40 chairs squeezed in front of a red curtain, dimmed lights.
Then my head began spinning. Fog started to overwhelm my vision, and suddenly I needed air.
The moment I stood up, I lost control of my body and fell right onto the laps of our two neighbouring audience members – abruptly causing the show to stop and all eyes to fall on me.
Thanks to my friend and some fellow strangers, I got back on my feet and was carried right out the door.
This was my first ever experience with “greening out”, the cannabis equivalent of getting black out drunk.
Since then, I’ve always wanted to know exactly how much THC I’m taking at any given time, and how long it will take to kick in. I’ve therefore often abstained from many edibles, which can take a long time to kick in, with varying potency.
The uncertainty experienced with edibles and unlabelled spliffs is something that beverage companies are working to counter. Using new technologies, such as nano-emulsions, new products are able to have predictable onset and offset times, and more consistent highs.
This means that the experience of drinking a cannabis beverage can be similar to taking a beer.
Dooma Wendschuh designed his Cannabis-beer products to have a potency similar to having one alcoholic drink. “It’s really not very strong at all. It’s designed to be sessionable, so you can consume several over the course of a night,” he said.
“This creates an expectation for the customer” said Cole Miller. “It prevents the terrible effects of consuming way too much. The one thing that’s going to help beverages be successful over the long term is consistency.”
According to June Nicholson, this consistency is key to making the beverages market in Canada succeed where the California market faltered.
The failed American beverage dream
In California, the cannabis drinks market currently makes up between two to four percent of the total cannabis industry. Is this a sign of what’s to come in Canada?
“If you take an eye to the US market, it hasn’t been a huge market because they don’t have a federal framework to operate across all states,” said Nicholson. “In Canada we have that.”
Since the products were introduced in the U.S. in a sporadic and informal manner, where some products were too strong and took too long to set in, they haven’t been able to create the marketing and messaging to build a cohesive industry and culture of consumption around it.
Nicholson said that new technology will also give the industry a boost in Canada that wasn’t available in California.
“Canadians have the time to develop their beverages technologies to be more sophisticated,” she said. “The flavor might be more sophisticated, or more palpable to the consumers, without discoloring, and odorless.”
However, the Canadian market does face its challenges. Lisa Campbell spoke about how strict marketing and distribution regulations are making it difficult for the beverage market to reach their potential.
“Consuming on site, ordering munchies, and not just potato chips, but a full service restaurant – that’s where we really see the future of cannabis beverages.” However, it will take many changes in the regulatory environment and industry practice for that to become a reality.
“It’s really important for the industry to act as a united front to be able to have that unified voice to be able to share the insights,” said Nicholson. As co-chair of the CBPA, she thinks that the beverage industry will need to work with aligned goals in order to eventually create a more relaxed regulatory environment.
Until then, I’ll be content to be one of the first to crack open a can of cannabis beer and give cheers to a new generation of drinkable edibles – one where blushing red and greening out are finally out of the picture.
*editor’s note: Greencamp.com is operated through Wikala.com Inc, which was acquired by Phivida Holdings Inc. in April 2019.