As more states legalize cannabis for recreational use, weed-infused drinks are touted as a healthier alternative to alcohol.
More bars and alcohol brands are introducing beverages that contain THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that gets people high. Breweries in Minnesota are now offering THC-infused seltzers after lawmakers legalized edibles, although the trend started earlier in more weed-friendly states such as Colorado and California.
THC-infused drinks might appeal to people who want a social buzz without the effects of alcohol, and some products are marketed as low-calorie, natural, and “hangover-free.”
But health experts are skeptical about the health benefits of this relatively new form of consumable cannabis due to a lack of research.
While cannabis remains illegal federally, 19 U.S. states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational use. However, allowances vary state by state. For example, recreational cannabis use is legal in New Jersey, but dispensaries are not allowed to sell perishable edibles such as cookies. In Minnesota, where recreational smoking or vaping of weed is illegal, lawmakers recently permitted the sales of edibles that contain 5 mg of THC per serving.
Since cannabis is still an illegal drug on the federal level, controlled clinical trials on the health effects of THC are extremely limited. A “standard dose” of cannabis has yet to be established, said Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, a medical toxicologist and co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Center.
“I am sure that there is a ‘toxic’ threshold dose of cannabis,” Johnson-Arbor said. “In terms of liquid formulations, we don’t have that information yet.”
Most weed-infused drinks on the market say they contain around 2–10 mg of THC. For some people, just 2 mg of THC could cause a high, while others might not experience the same effects even on higher doses, according to Leah Sera, PharmD, MA, BCPS, co-director of the Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics program at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.
“The effects of THC are extremely individualized—everyone responds to cannabis products differently,” Sera told Verywell in an email.
While the National Institute on Drug Abuse established a standard unit of THC as 5 mg for the purpose of clinical research, there are no official recommendations on what’s safe for consumption.
Some THC-infused sodas like CANN claim to be hangover-free, but that's misleading.
Whether someone feels “lingering cognitive effects” the day after consuming THC beverages would depend on different factors, such as how many drinks they consumed and their tolerance level, according to Tory R. Spindle, PhD, an assistant professor and researcher at the John Hopkins Cannabis Science Laboratory.
Some cannabis drinks are made with a relatively new nanoemulsion technology that allows THC to be absorbed faster than other edibles. While the liquid form might kick in within five to 10 minutes, some edibles can take up to four hours to reach their peak psychoactive effects.
Experts worry that people might reach for more drinks than they can tolerate while waiting for a buzz. And since individuals can react to edibles very differently, it's much harder to gauge how much product they should consume.
THC can lead to slower reaction time and impaired coordination, and the effects can last more than eight hours, so it's best not to drive after using any amount of cannabis. Overconsumption of THC can also lead to nausea, paranoia, and increased heart rate.
Experts say there is still a lot to learn about cannabis drinks and how they impact behavior and long-term health.
“It’s kind of like the Wild West with these products and there’s very little regulation,” Margaret Haney, PhD, a professor of neurobiology and director of the Cannabis Research Laboratory at the Columbia University Medical Center, told Verywell.
Cannabis is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, which the Drug Enforcement Administration defines as a drug with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” LSD and heroin are also Schedule I.
There are enormous regulations in place when scientists try to conduct research with a Schedule I drug, Haney explained.
“So the consequence is it’s very hard to conduct good, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical studies with cannabis,” she said. Without these studies, it’s challenging to fully understand how cannabis edibles affect the human body.
Cannabis use has been shown to lead to dependence or a use disorder. But the likelihood of someone developing marijuana use disorder after drinking THC-infused drinks is still unclear.
“There’s an enormous industry that is promoting cannabis products, for pretty much every indication, and it’s all happening in lieu of any data,” Haney said.
Experts say that since weed drinks may look like seltzers or juice, they should be stored out of reach of children. Edibles may cause children to have trouble breathing, standing, or walking. If you believe someone is experiencing cannabis poisoning, contact a trusted healthcare provider or poison control.