The growing, using and selling of marijuana and certain related products has become legal in some countries and is being proposed to become legal in many more. Several beverage companies have begun to infuse their products with CBD, an ingredient found in marijuana and hemp. And now, even a few wineries have adopted the practice. We thought it was worth taking a deeper look.
First, let’s set some groundwork on terminology and fundamentals. “Cannabis” is a family of plant with two primary strains that will be focused on in this article: marijuana and hemp. “Cannabanoids” are any of the 80+ chemical compounds found in cannabis plants. (The literature is vague on this. We have seen numbers from 60 to 113. We will go with an FDA press release that used the number “80+”). Cannabinoids react with cannabinoid receptors that exist in cells in our bodies, mostly in our brain.
Two cannabinoids receiving attention today are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid, that one that gets you high. CBD does not get you high and is thought to provide many health benefits. The key difference between marijuana and hemp that we will focus on is that marijuana has high concentrations of THC (concentrations of 15%-40%) whereas hemp has low concentrations of THC (less than 0.3%). Both THC and CBD are extracted from cannabis plants using a solvent (made from either CO2, compressed gas, or ethanol) which removes the oil from the plant. The oils can then be distilled to isolate certain compounds or left alone to become “full spectrum CBD”. The oil is then directly infused into the beverage.
Infusing both THC and CBD into beverages has become a hot topic, though due to legalization issues, these are still early days. THC has been infused into some beverages for the purpose of inducing a high. With much greater current popularity, CBD is being infused into a number of beverages for the purpose of obtaining CBD’s health benefits without getting high. CBD is presently thought to reduce pain, reduce anxiety or depression, reduce negative effects of cancer treatments, and even reduce acne. Research continues into CBD’s potential benefits and many more claims about benefits are being made and researched. CBD extracted from hemp, as earlier stated, has a negligible THC content.
The jury remains out on the issue of combining wine and CBD. The proponents cite that wine is delicious and CBD has certain health benefits. Why not obtain those health benefits while you enjoy your favourite beverage? That logic on its surface is compelling. But like all things wine, complexity rests at its core. First, infusing CBD into wine is not exactly easy. CBD is extracted as an oil and oils are very hard to infuse into water, and water is about 85% of most wines. Oils wants to rest as a slick on top rather than infuse. To address this issue, the large CBD oil particles are smashed down into much smaller particles, usually using sound waves. These smaller particles can then mix or disperse within the water or wine, in a process called nanoemulsion. This process also increases the bioavailability (the ability of the body to absorb a substance) of the CBD, so you get more of the benefits you were intending to get.
The FDA approved a purified form of CBD to be used in controlled doses to treat seizures in October of 2018. CBD in general, that is not in this purified form and not in a specific dosage, is not approved by the FDA. The FDA has stated its concern over certain claims of CBD benefits that have not been scientifically proven. California has recently passed a law, AB 2914, which prohibits adding CBD to any alcoholic beverage. The law states “This bill would prohibit an alcoholic beverage licensee from, at its licensed premises, selling, offering, or providing cannabis or cannabis products, including an alcoholic beverage that contains cannabis or cannabis products, and would provide that no alcoholic beverage shall be manufactured, sold, or offered for sale if it contains tetrahydrocannabinol or cannabinoids, regardless of source.” The state of Michigan has passed a similar law. From a legal and from a scientific research point of view, the whole CBD infused beverage issue is murky.
Wine, for discerning consumers is all about taste. Will the infusion flavour the wine or alter its aromas? CBD oil has a noticeable grassy flavour. Nanoemulsion is reported to reduce this flavour. Dosage needs to be monitored. For medical benefits, the amount of CBD you should take daily will depend on the severity of your condition and your body weight. Most of the research we found advocated doses of between 25 mg and 100 mg of CBD per day. We could not find any CBD-infused wine that indicated the CBD dosage level in their product. But our research revealed several CBD-infused waters. These came in 500 ml bottles and varied from 5 mg to 30 mg per bottle. If a mean dose to get health benefits is 60 mg/day and you assume the highest CBD concentration that we found (30 mg/500 ml), that means you would have to drink 1.3 bottles of wine (750 ml size) per day to get the medical benefits of CBD. Clearly that much wine consumption makes little health sense at all. Most medical research we have encountered advocates limiting wine consumption to two glasses per day. This makes us concerned about CBD infusers who want you to try their product to obtain the medical benefits when obtaining the required dosage of CBD likely requires excessive alcohol consumption.
Laws require winemakers to state on the label what the percentage of alcohol is. Will CBD-infused wines also state the level of CBD infusion? What about mixing CBD and alcohol? Both are known to promote relaxation and reduce inhibition. What happens when you get a double dose of those effects?
One thing that is clear is that CBD infusions are a rapidly rising trend. Mainstream beverage producers are getting into the cannabis game. Constellation Brands, a major player in the wine industry thinks that infusions are the way of the future and invested $3.8 billion in Canadian cannabis producer Canopy Growth. Like every story, there are two sides to this one.
For us, the real question on this issue is simply: why? Why infuse CBD, or any other substance, into wine? Most of us take some sort of supplement on a regular basis, whether it is vitamins, protein, electrolytes or anything else. But we don’t infuse those into our wine. We view CBD in exactly the same way. CBD may offer certain benefits, which is great. But why not just take the CBD on its own like we do with vitamins and other supplements? We don’t need to infuse it in our wine. As we think more about it, we cannot imagine wanting CBD or anything else infused into anything gastronomic. I highly doubt anyone would want to infuse CBD into a lobster tail or any other delicacy. The same goes for wine.
What may very well be at the crux of the issue is the fact that CBD and all things cannabis is a hot topic these days. It is topical and attention-getting to say your product has CBD in it. We have some concern around making wine to cater to the current trend as opposed to making wine to just be an enjoyable beverage. Our concern is that if you need CBD to bring attention to your wine, why is that? What gets our attention are balanced wines that reflect their place of origin and are made to bring pleasure to the consumer. Infusions with the latest trend are frankly just distractions to us. We will continue to look for wine made by artisans who are passionate about making a great tasting drink and not using the current trend as a marketing gimmick.
If you want to learn more, were able to find these companies offering a CBD-infused wine:
Rebel Coast Winery (THC infusions)