Cannabis Cocktails & Drinks: What You Should Know

Drink Your Medicine, But Proceed With Caution

Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails, and Tonics
Photo: S&C Design Studios

Have you toyed with the thought of adding cannabis to your cocktails? Now that many states in the U.S. have legalized some form of marijuana use, the conversation about mixing alcohol and cannabis is more important than ever.

Before you mix up a cannabis-infused cocktail, there are a few things you should know. This is not a matter that should be taken as casually as the average cocktail or smoking a joint.

If you choose to combine the two into a single glass, a new level of responsibility and moderation is needed.

The Precautions and Concerns

Most cannabis users know by now that there are two primary compounds found in marijuana: THC and CBD. THC is the chemical that produces the high that many users seek from marijuana, while CBD has no psychoactive effect though this is where the medicinal value lies. While cannabis strains vary in their THC and CBD values, most contain at least some concentration of each chemical. 

You know that cannabis can get you high and that alcohol can get you drunk, those are clear facts. Yet, the two cause different reactions within your body and that is where the concern lies.

Those who drink know that liquor can hit you relatively quick. When we talk about cannabis 'drinkables,' it will take longer to feel the effects than when it is smoked. The timing is similar to edibles and, depending on your personal metabolism, regularity of use, and other factors, it can take up to an hour or two to feel the high from a cannabis drink.

The cannabis high from drinking can also stick around longer or be more intense than you would expect or necessarily enjoy. On average, five to six hours of feeling high is not uncommon and some drinkers report feeling its effects into the next day.

All of this has brought up concerns within the bartending community.

It has become a topic of conversation because some bars in states where recreational cannabis is legal are serving cannabis cocktails. As professional mixologists have pointed out in a Liquor.com article if you choose to do this, it needs to be done with caution and your customers need to be informed.

Essential Tips for Starting Your Canna Drink Experience

The real problem with drinking cannabis, even if it's not mixed with alcohol, is that there are so many variables. Your body, the strain of marijuana, and the potency of the drink itself will become key factors. No one can tell you how this drink or that drink is going to affect you.

In his book, "Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails, and Tonics," Warren Bobrow has great advice for easing into cannabis drinks. Overall, the message is to take it low and slow. Essentially, this means a low dosage and a single drink.

The unpredictability of drinking cannabis drinks leads to a few precautions:

  • When beginning to experiment, do so in a safe environment such your home just in case you do get too high. Do not drive, it's just not cool (or legal).
  • Start with non-alcoholic drinks and small dosages of cannabis-infused ingredients such as tinctures, syrups, and creamers.
  • Wait! Just like edibles, your stomach needs to absorb the cannabis compounds, so don't think that you need a second drink after 15 or 30 minutes. Practice patience.
  • Limit how many cannabis drinks you have each day. Bobrow recommends playing it safe and sticking with a single infused drink per night.

Bobrow is well-experienced in mixing cannabis and alcohol. He is known as the 'Cocktail Whisperer' and has studied both the bar and marijuana for many years. When speaking with him, you really do get an understanding of his experience, so his advice should not go unheeded. If there is an 'authority' in the burgeoning canna cocktail world, he's the guy.

That said, in an interview, he did pass on a simple trick just in case you overdo it on the drinkables. If you find yourself overwhelmed with anxiety and the buzz is just too much to handle, take a drink of fresh lemon juice and chew on 3 to 4 peppercorns (cloves work, too).

It's a good idea to have these ingredients handy.

How to Approach Cannabis Drinks

Cannabis drinks are not all about a new way to get high. They can be used for their medicinal benefits and that is the primary approach that Bobrow takes in his book. Many cannabis users are interested in it because of this and from the apothecary standpoint, there is a lot to be said about drinkables.

You do not have to mix cannabis with alcohol, either. In fact, Bobrow recommends that beginners try mocktails and tonics first. It can be something as simple as his Turkish Coffee recipe, which uses a dollop of canna butter in a take on Vietnamese Coffee. You can also add a dose of cannabis tincture to a glass of soda for a quick drink.

Tip: For a 'buzz' free tincture, ask your dispensary for a CBD tincture as this will have all the medicinal benefits without the high.

When and if you do begin to experiment with cannabis cocktails, follow a proven recipe like those in the "Cannabis Cocktails" book. Do not stray from the recipe or overpour the liquor or cannabis ingredient until you know how it affects you.

It's also very common for homebrewers and winemakers to make cannabis-infused versions of their beverages. The same precautions should be taken with these and, quite often, a single drink is enough.

Creating Cannabis-Infused Mixers

There are a number of ways to get cannabis into your drinks. No matter which you choose, it is vital that it is decarboxylated ('decarb,'  for short). This is because the active compounds in marijuana only become active with heat, which is why smoking is so effective.

Tip: Decarbing is easy and can be done in your kitchen. It is, however, a pungent process and if you are concerned about neighbors or visitors, you will need to take precautions.

With decarbed cannabis, you can create a variety of liquid mixers to go into your drinks:

  • Cannabis infused liquors. Created similar to other homemade infusions, but with heat. Bobrow has tips for the process and recommendations for strain-liquor pairings in his book.
  • Canna butter, cream, or syrup. Quick ways to drink your medicine in any beverage. Adding lecithin helps your body absorb the cannabis compounds more quickly.
  • Cannabis tinctures. These concentrated liquids are popular among medical marijuana patients though they can be very strong. A single drop is often all that is needed for a drink. 
  • Cannabis bitters. Just like the bitters we use often in the bar, these too are very concentrated and a few dashes go a long way.

Instructions for creating all of these ingredients are included in Bobrow's book.

Buy "Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails, and Tonics" at Amazon

How Do Cannabis Drinks Taste?

If you have any experience with cannabis, then you will have an idea of its unique flavor. It will add an herbal undertone to any drink you mix it into, no matter the ingredient you use.

The exact flavor will vary greatly with the strain of cannabis you use. In general, it can be likened to a bright green and leafy, yet floral herb. With alcohol -- even in a tincture -- it can almost have a sunflower-like flavor. 

Cannabis will mix well with a variety of ingredients and most liquors. It's a surprisingly versatile flavor pairing.

If you would like to taste cannabis in alcohol without homemade infusions or the THC high, Humboldt Disitillery's Humboldt's Finest Vodka is the best choice to date. It is made from hemp and is THC-free, which is why it is legal in all states, though distribution remains limited.