Cannabis will be used widely in other products once the drinks industry has led the way.
A century ago, Coca Cola contained cocaine and was held up as a cure for impotence, headaches and morphine addiction. The hard narcotics are long gone, but folk are aflutter at the possibility that the fizzy drink might one day contain cannabis. For it emerged this week that Coca-Cola, the company, is taking a close look at the cannabis-drinks sector.
Weed-lovers will be disappointed. The ingredient being considered by Coca-Cola is, for now, a non-psychoactive one. Known as cannabidiol (CBD), this extract is already quite widely used as a food supplement. Users say it helps with anxiety, chronic pain and mood disorders. Smaller firms have already added it to soft drinks and bottled waters.
But thanks to the trend towards legalisation of cannabis across North America there is also growing interest in using the psychoactive part of the plant, known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in products.
Most of the attention paid to THC is coming from the alcoholic-drinks industry.
Constellation Brands, the maker of Corona beer, based in Victor, New York, recently invested almost $4bn in a Canadian cannabis firm, Canopy Growth. Diageo, a British drinks giant, is also rumoured to be exploring investment opportunities.
Jessica Lukas, an analyst with BDS Analytics, based in Boulder, Colorado, expects cannabis to be used widely in other products once the drinks industry has led the way.
She notes that there are more than 100 different compounds in cannabis, with various properties that could be useful. A few startups are already experimenting.
Various formulations of cannabis can be found in creams, sprays, vape fluid, luxury chocolates, candyfloss and even a “sensual lubricant” which, the makers claim, will enhance sex. Cannabis tourism and events are taking off, too, with weekend retreats, art gatherings, and even “puff” pastry cooking classes.
Innovators are also trying to find new ways to appeal to consumers who balk at the idea of inhaling or eating cannabis.
When it is consumed, it both takes a long time for its effects to be noticed and imparts an earthy flavour that some find unpleasant. (This long-onset problem is why some users consume far too much, thinking it is not working.)
With some clever chemistry, firms such as ebbu, Sôrse and Mirth Provisions have developed formulations that can be added to food and drink and deliver fast-acting cannabis with no flavour. Firms large and small are eyeing the opportunities as hungrily as any late-night pot smoker.