There’s nothing quite like having a drink with those you love. Whether it’s a fun night out at the bar, a fancy dinner party, a toast to celebrate a momentous occasion or a simple glass of wine with your partner at home, alcoholic drinks play a big role.
And it makes sense. Small amounts of alcohol can help ease people into a more relaxed and social mood, which can make things a lot more fun. But as cannabis legalization continues to open up new possibilities for recreational relaxation, a new alternative is entering the scene: alcohol-free, cannabis-infused wine and beer that mimic the flavors of alcohol.
Options like Rebel Coast Wineries’ new cannabis-infused Sauvignon Blanc and Lagunitas’ Hi-Fi Hops are taking the alcohol out of the equation and replacing it with cannabis. Now you don’t have to get drunk to drink with your friends.
The cannabis wine craze didn’t start with nonalcoholic wines. People have been mixing cannabis with wine containing alcohol for thousands of years. If fact, the combination was first used as general anesthesia for surgery back in 400 BC.
But in recent years, the marijuana and wine movement has been more focused on mixing the two for recreational purposes. What started as just individuals enjoying both cannabis and wine at their parties and gatherings has spawned a high-end culture geared around blending these two recreational substances in sophisticated settings:
In California, where the climate is well suited to both cannabis and wine, the cannabis and alcohol culture was thriving. Then Prop 64 passed legalizing recreational cannabis, and the legal options for mixing marijuana and wine or beer disappeared.
Under the new California laws, no one can mix cannabis and alcohol. Not only are alcohol and cannabis not allowed to be sold in the same product (such as cannabis-infused wine), but they’re not even allowed to be sold at the same event.
Those who have licenses to make or sell alcohol could lose them if they’re found to be selling cannabis as well. This has really put a damper on the cannabis-infused alcohol trend and the many events focused on pairing cannabis and wine.
The reasoning behind the decision has to do with the way cannabis and alcohol interact. Perhaps we could have guessed from the fact that this potent combination was used for anesthesia that its effects are powerful. Those under the influence of this mix can find it to be sedative, disorienting and numbing.
Some of this is just from the alcohol itself, which comes with its fair share of dangerous effects. Alcohol can make it harder to move with coordination or think clearly, making driving unsafe. And for those who drink too much alcohol, death from accidental overdose is a real possibility.
Cannabis, on the other hand, is relatively safe. You can’t overdose from it like you can with alcohol, and it doesn’t impair coordination in the same way. Still, it can be extremely disorienting, especially for new or occasional consumers.
Unfortunately, when you mix cannabis and alcohol, the effects become far more pronounced. The disorientation is magnified, often much more than expected for the amount of cannabis consumed. This can be highly dangerous if people try to drive after taking the combination. One study found that driving ability was moderately impaired by cannabis but severely impaired by the combination of cannabis and alcohol.
When scientists studied this phenomenon, they found a surprising result. When subjects drank alcohol and smoked cannabis, the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) increased compared to when they consumed the same amount of cannabis without any alcohol. This suggests that alcohol actually increases the absorption of THC and adds to its disorienting and euphoric effects.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the combination can’t be consumed without issue. Many combine alcohol and THC on a regular basis, without any ill effects. But legislators aren’t ready to take on the risk of drivers on the road coming back from marijuana and alcohol events or bars that serve cannabis and alcohol. So this combination is one that happens at private gatherings only.
But don’t worry. The “weed and wine” culture isn’t gone yet. And while mixing cannabis and alcohol isn’t allowed, the new trend is moving from mixing to mimicking.
Take the new Sauvignon Blanc from Rebel Coast. This nonalcoholic wine swaps out the alcohol for cannabis. With no alcohol, it doesn’t violate any laws, but it still tastes like wine.
An alcohol-free wine like this would be the perfect substitute at dinners or tastings that focus on cannabis and wine. It opens up a whole world of possibilities for the event sector, because there’s no legal problem with mixing cannabis wine with other forms of cannabis.
And even for private events and gatherings, this could be a game changer. For those who simply prefer the effects of cannabis to alcohol, this offers a way to join in the celebratory culture that surrounds drinks without getting drunk or hungover.
Want to go to a party where everyone is drinking, and smoking isn’t allowed? Bring some cannabis-infused, nonalcoholic wine or beer. You can raise your glass in a toast, and still get the kind of buzz you prefer.
And it’s not just wine. The Hi-Hops drink from Lagunitas takes a similar route. It’s just sparkling water with cannabis and hops flavors, with the cannabis added in after it leaves the brewery. Other beer makers like Blue Moon have also announced they’re planning to offer cannabis infused, nonalcoholic beers soon.
Could these cannabis-infused beverages be the future of celebratory beverages? Only time will tell if there’s a market for people who’d rather sip cannabis than alcohol.
Photo credit: Mattias Diesel
If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 index of articles. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it's easy, private and 100% online.