What it feels like to drink cannabis-infused beer
When I set out to investigate this topic, I had one question: "What does it feel like to drink cannabis-infused beer?"
But, let's be honest. What I was really asking was, "Does cannabis-infused beer get you high?"
The short answer?
Yes ... and also no.
It does if it contains THC. However, since it's illegal for breweries to add THC to their beer, you have to DIY psychoactive weed beer for your own personal consumption at home, something we’ll get to later.
But first, let's take a look at the kind of cannabeer that doesn't get you high, yet also mysteriously doesn't get you hungover: CBD beer.
Hold the THC, Please
George Washington’s Secret Stash, a sativa IPA, is America’s first-ever federally approved cannabis-infused beer. Introduced in 2015 by Dad & Dudes Breweria in Aurora, CO, this “cannabeer” has the secret ingredient to infusion approval: CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. The brew contains zero THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid that causes couch lock and cravings, leaving a perfectly legal beer with 4 mg CBD per pint.
Even though it’s legal to dispense recreational products containing THC in the state of Colorado, it’s illegal for a dispensary to serve alcohol per Colorado’s Retail Marijuana Code (page 67). In order for a business to dispense THC, it has to be licensed as a dispensary — and therein lies the conundrum for bars and breweries.
For now, cannabeer is non-psychoactive or bust. Enter CBD — but what, exactly, does it do? More to the point, if it doesn't get you high, why bother infusing it into beer?
Citing health studies from PubMed, the nonprofit advocacy group Project CBD lists a slew of conditions that purportedly benefit from treatment with CBD. Anecdotal evidence, like the publicized case of South Carolina mom who treats her daughter’s epilepsy with CBD oil, suggests that CBD can cause a dramatic improvement of symptoms, sometimes even where other medicines have failed.
Among the list of conditions CBD is said to aid are three of particular interest when talking about pairing with alcohol: anxiety, inflammation, and liver disease. Would a CBD-infused beer, say, for example, help prevent anxious over-drinking in social situations? Would it reduce systemic inflammation, and thereby improve the next day’s hangover? Would it repair liver damage as it causes it?
A few scientific studies have investigated CBD and alcohol interaction. One study suggests the combination of CBD and alcohol results in lower blood alcohol levels than the same amount of plain alcohol. Another study seems to confirm that yes, indeed, CBD can protect the liver from the damaging effects of alcohol. If ever there were such a thing as a healthy beer, CBD-infused beer is a strong contender.
A Taste Test (For Science)
To get straight to the source — or the brew barrel, as it were — I sampled this cannabis-infused beer at its home brewery. The owner, “Dad” of Dad & Dudes Breweria, Tom Hembree, was more than happy to fire up the tap and talk cannabeer.
Having had cannabis coffees, cannabis colas, and other cannabis-containing beverages in my time in the recreationally legal state of Colorado, I was expecting a much stronger flower flavor than the Sativa IPA packed. Tom explained that they use a maltier hop from California; those hops combined with the sativa extract results in the IPA’s unusual sweetness.
Gazing around the bar at the bottom of my first pint, I wasn’t feeling anything particularly unusual from the CBD. Then again, the beer’s dose of 4 mg CBD would be too low for noticeable effects. I decided to take a growler (a magnificent 64 oz jug) home to see if I could drink enough to prove my anti-hangover theory.
Did I mention that CBD may ease insomnia? Because about halfway through my third pint at home, I started feeling monumentally sleepy. By then, I had reached a dose of about 10 mg CBD — enough, on average, for symptom improvement in most individuals. I hadn’t seen this particular lullaby effect coming, but as a lifelong sufferer of chronic insomnia, I wasn’t complaining.
Decidedly, by pint four, I was not high. No surprises there, but it wasn’t unpleasant. I was sleepy, but not the type of drunk-tired that precedes a blackout. I felt no anxiety — a rarity for me — and hadn’t had to imbibe THC to achieve that feeling. Also, I didn’t have to pee nearly as much as I normally do when drinking beer. I’m not sure that’s related; you’re welcome for the knowledge anyway. The next morning, I felt perfectly fine.
I might not have gotten high from this cannabis-infused beer, but the concept of drinking a beer that seems to lessen its own hangover is pretty compelling. I would be interested to try CBD-infused beer in a crowd to determine if the anti-anxiety effects lessened my tendency to nervously overdrink. Also, for those who treat an existing condition with CBD, the idea of getting your dose in with your dinner beers might be a selling point.
Once More, With Feeling
Now for the long answer.
THC beer might not be available on tap, but I had a simple idea: THC tincture + beer = THC-infused beer. Why not give it a shot?
I elected a citrus-flavored THC tincture and a pumpkin shandy (yeah, yeah, throw your shade; shit's delicious). Not inexperienced with edibles, I opted for a 20 mg dose in my 12 oz beer. I drank it over the course of an hour and settled in to wait out the effects.
By the time the fourth episode of my Black Mirror binge rolled around, I noticed, in that sudden "Oh, hey, I'm high" kind of way edibles kick in, I had a buzz going. The mild effects of the alcohol had long since worn off, but the tincture was taking off. Couch lock seemed to be settling in; my body felt heavy, and a pleasantly tingly I associate with edibles. My absorption in Netflix increased tenfold as the next episode began.
A season finale later as I scarfed a pizza, I concluded my experiment had been a success. Yet, I felt a little let down by the experience. It's cool, sure, but is it worth all of the hype? It's not a sessionable beer, which is to say a beer you can drink a lot of in a short sitting, due to the THC content. Do that, and you might find yourself on the floor in the fetal position in an anxiety-doom-spiral wondering about something insignificant like whether your voice sounds weird on the phone.
In this test subject’s opinion, infusing the beer was just extra work for little gain, calling into question how practical it would be for brewers to develop an “official” THC-infused beer. Moreover, why wouldn’t you just imbibe your THC in whatever manner you usually do *while* drinking a beer? THC-infused beer sounds cool, but there are so many potential pitfalls — like that one guy who will inevitable chug six in a bar, get super stoned, do something stupid, and ruin it for everyone. You know. THAT guy. There’s always that guy.
Ill-advised DIY aside, can we expect to see properly THC-infused beers hit shelves anytime soon? Maybe the real question, instead, is whether THC-infused beer is worth the hassle. The effort-to-benefits ratio seems to be in CBD beer’s flavor — erm, "favor.” Then again, we’re a spacefaring species; if it were legal, we’d probably do it just for the sake of exploring the unknown. Who can say what’s next for cannabeer? The future, like a neglected bong, is murky.