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With a string of state legalizations in recent years and national legalization seemingly on the way, there’s tons of attention on emerging cannabis products such as beverages and other items that provide a whole new way to get your buzz on. Compared to smoking and vaping, cannabis beverages are much easier to manage and deal with, and many consumers that haven’t spent a lifetime smoking joints are turning to cannabis beverages as a way to join in on the fun.

Basically, cannabis beverages are drinks that have been infused with cannabis. But it’s not as simple as taking some marijuana flower and stirring it in your favorite drink. Cannabis beverages are created by adding an activated cannabis concentrate — sort of like how you might add some liquid cannabis to food while cooking or baking — infusing the drink with cannabis.

How Are Cannabis-Infused Beverages Different?

Compared to flower, which requires paraphernalia and other knowledge to consume, marijuana beverages are ready-to-drink, providing a refreshing take on cannabis that’s more akin to drinking a beer or another alcoholic beverage. That’s great for those that would rather drink their cannabis rather than smoke it, particularly in group settings where cracking another drink is easier than readying the vaporizer or locating a pipe.

For those that may have asthma or other difficulties smoking marijuana flower, cannabis beverages provide a great way to consume cannabis. Cannabis beverages are also easier to dose than marijuana flower, and all it takes is one look at the container to determine how much marijuana is contained within, as well as what the recommended dosage is.

Furthermore, there are also cannabis drinks to suit any preference or need, and you can get a THC- or CBD-infused drink, or some combination of the two, by choosing from the many products available. Not only are the drinks convenient and tasty, but it’s easy to match your need with what’s out there, just like if you were drinking alcoholic beverages.

How Do Cannabis Beverages Work?

While some consumers may think that cannabis beverages work just like smoking or any other method, it’s true that cannabis beverages work differently. Smoking or vaping cannabis activates the cannabinoids within due to heat (not necessarily combustion), which is why you can’t get high by eating cannabis unless you bake, cook or otherwise heat it up.

But with cannabis beverages, the cannabis inside has already been activated, meaning that they can be consumed without delay or any other extra preparation. That said, the way cannabis affects the mind and body is different when the cannabis is ingested instead of inhaled. Inhalation means absorbing the cannabis via the lungs into the bloodstream while drinking means delivering that cannabis into the digestive system before it can hit the bloodstream.

The main difference with cannabis drinks (and cannabis foods) is that the onset of effects often takes 30 minutes to two hours, while smoking is more instantaneous. In this way, cannabis drinks have an effect more like alcohol where there’s a delay rather than an immediate shift in cognition. Compared to smoking, where effects are measured within seconds and minutes, cannabis drinks have a much longer onset, though the effects are often stronger and last longer than smoking or vaping.

How Are Cannabis Beverages Made?

Unlike growing cannabis flower, which grows easily outside and indoors, making cannabis-infused beverages is a complex, three-part process.

First up is the CO2 extraction, which is required to infuse the drink with cannabis. Typically, this means adding CO2 to raw cannabis under significant heat and pressure. Following this process, the CO2 is released and what’s left is the concentrated cannabis extract.

From here, there’s a quick distillation process known as short-path distillation, which utilizes heat to refine the extract into cannabis distillate, almost ready to be added to the final product.

But because the cannabis distillate isn’t water soluble, a blending agent is added in a process known as emulsification, which attaches to the distillate and enables it to be dissolved in water, resulting in a uniform drink that’s ready to be consumed.

Unlike many cannabis products that require some sort of prep or initiation process, cannabis beverages are, for the most part, ready to consume immediately when the package is opened. Most cannabis beverages are consumed directly from the can or packaging itself, though some users may desire to pour the drink into a glass of their own.

Like beer and other alcoholic beverages, the taste profiles often lend themselves to the cold, so it’s also important to keep those drinks chilled until it’s time for them to be consumed.

Are There Any Regulations Governing Cannabis Drinks?

While many states have legalized cannabis for recreational or medicinal use, you’ll have to consult the laws in your particular state to determine the legality of cannabis-infused beverages in your area. Luckily, since CBD is legal nationally, you’ll be able to obtain CBD-infused drinks just about anywhere, though in certain areas a THC- and CBD-based drink may not be legal.

Most drinks contain anywhere from 0 to 10 mg of cannabis, depending on the specific product or type of drink. They can be purchased in any store that also sells marijuana products, such as a nearby dispensary, and some services may even deliver the drinks to your residence if you’d rather not go out.

But before you pop open that cannabis drink the next time you’re out in public, you may want to consult the local laws and regulations. While cannabis drinks may be legal in your area, public consumption of cannabis beverages may not be legal, just like how the public consumption of marijuana is not legal even if possessing and smoking it is.

The cannabis high should also be taken as seriously as an alcoholic buzz, and you shouldn’t operate heavy machinery — such as your car — while under the influence. In fact, you can get a DUI in many states for driving while stoned, and that can mean spending a night in jail or losing driving privileges if you make a habit of drinking cannabis beverages and driving.

Now that you’re armed with everything you need to know about cannabis beverages, it’s time to pick some up and give it a try. Here at Embarc, we’re a Northern California retailer that believes in the power of cannabis to change the world. Our locally owned and operated Embarc stores are pillars of the community, and if you’re in the area come say “hi” and pick up some product. Learn more here.