How Drinking CBD Cocktails Really Makes You Feel
When it comes to drinking and drugs, I’ve always been a bit of a lightweight. So when I heard that CBD cocktails were “a thing,” despite knowing that CBD wouldn’t actually get me high, I was a little spooked by the prospect of combining a weed-derived substance with booze, mostly for fear of some kind of overbaked result. Would I get totally lit and need to take a nap at the bar, or would I be really calm and focused but also social and fun?
A non-psychoactive chemical found in both cannabis and hemp plants, CBD (cannabidiol) acts as an anti-inflammatory and sedative, without the trippy effects of THC. While popular for years in health circles, it’s recently become the wellness ingredient du jour, appearing in coffee drinks and plant-based dinners. But CBD is more than just this year’s turmeric latte—numerous studies have suggested that it could have serious medical benefits for dozens of chronic conditions. So what happens when you pair this miracle antioxidant with an arguably inflammatory substance like alcohol? And, more importantly, why would you?
At Bar Belly on the Lower East Side, customers can elect to add a spritz of CBD oil to any cocktail for $2. At New York’s Narcbar, the sidewalk-facing restaurant/bar within The Standard East Village, you can order a $14 Matcha Haze, made with gin, mezcal, matcha, lemon, egg white and CBD oil sprayed on top in the design of a cannabis leaf. “Guests were requesting CBD and wanted to add it to just about everything—juice, tea, coffee, cocktails,” said Regional Beverage Director, Ashley Santoro. The .05mg of CBD that sat atop a frothy egg white float gave me a pretty decent buzz, counteracted somewhat by the lift I got from the matcha syrup.
Narcbar’s Matcha Haze, made with gin, mezcal, matcha, lemon, egg white and CBD oil sprayed on top
Photo by Alex Lau
A chic new underground cocktail bar in Chinatown, Peachy’s, plays with herbs and supplements like astragalus, spirulina, and chlorella in cocktails. Co-owner Eddy Buckingham plans to add drops of a CBD tincture called Daily Dose to their cocktail, the $18 Jade Fizz (like a gin fizz, but with bok choy extract and moringa powder). This one hit me a bit harder—there was a heaviness but not a headiness. It’s the first wave of sedation you get from being stoned without that “delay effect”—there’s no real disruption of your own spatial awareness. I felt buzzed from the alcohol, but the CBD added a grounding quality; I felt ultra-calm in the best way.
To the delight of stoners everywhere, we are hard-wired to crave cannabis products. “We all have endocannabinoid receptors in our bodies already, and cannabinoids [a class of chemicals found in CBD and other cannabis products] also occur naturally in substances like breast milk,” said Cannabis guru and advocate Sailene Ossman (who once ran a famous no-name delivery service in LA). She believes that CBD helps return balance to the body, regulating inflammation, soothing anxiety and more. Ossman, who is firmly anti-alcohol, has never combined CBD with booze, but frequently serves it in mocktails (she often hosts parties and events using cannabis products). “It’s more placebo effect with CBD than anything, I think.”
In the concentrations and concoctions it’s being mixed with, CBD is likely having very little medicinal effect, but it could be just enough to cut the wave of anxiety you can often get immediately after downing a cocktail (dehydration can trigger anxiety-like symptoms). Kathleen Schaffer, owner and creative director of an LA-based events company who has played with CBD in different recipes said, “Scientifically speaking, the bioavailability in ingesting CBD is pretty low. Using it intravenously or under the tongue is most effective for now, depending on the tincture concentration.”
After my mini CBD bar crawl, the next day I awoke with a pretty strong case of munchies (the hole-in-the-stomach kind I used to get after bong hits in college), but other than that, not much of a hangover to speak of (no throbbing head, no dry mouth). Was it all in my head? The CBD had done very little to alter my state of mind, but I definitely felt different than I typically do after a night of moderate drinking. It seemed to ease the edges of my usual hangover, and I felt a little less dehydrated, a little more grounded. I’d had nothing to fear and only good vibes to gain from mixing my booze with a dash of green.
CBD Cocktails: What They Are and Why They’re Taking Over Bar Menus Everywhere
Cocktails are already a great way to relax and unwind, but a new trend you’ve probably seen everywhere is taking things things one, very chill step further. Replacing activated charcoal as this year’s ubiquitous food fad is cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive chemical found in hemp and cannabis that’s been creeping its way onto cocktail menus (and into coffee shops) all over the country.
While CBD contains no THC, and therefore will not get you high, it will still deliver some of the non-trippy effects of weed—a little sedation and relaxation. And bartenders are taking note, experimenting with the stuff in everything from infusions and tinctures to teas. But what exactly do you feel when you mix your CBD with booze?
“It gives you a different kind of ‘buzz’ for a relaxed state of mind,” says Zsolt “George” Csonka, owner-bartender at Adriaen Block, New York City’s first dedicated CBD bar. “After two drinks, you should find yourself feeling calm and mellow.”
Adriaen Block’s cocktails, with witty names like the Rolled Fashioned and Stoney Negroni, get their CBD content from various tinctures added via eyedropper to manage the dosage. Csonka chooses to make his drinks exclusively with low-ABV spirits, such as vermouths and sherries, which he believes works best for calming effects and overall wellness.
“CBD started popping up as a wellness trend to alleviate anxiety, pain, and inflammation,” he says. “When putting CBD in a low ABV or non-alcoholic cocktail, you can enjoy a drink or two and still be able to go to the gym the next day.”
Ryan Fleming, brand ambassador at Los Angeles whiskey producer Stillhouse Spirits Co., echoes the pros of CBD based on his personal experience. “As a bartender, it’s done wonders for my aches and pains, while also giving me the ability to still have a couple of drinks after work and not worry about complications with pain relievers.”
Beyond its purported health benefits, the application of CBD in cocktails can lead to a number of different flavor and texture enhancements.
Its natural taste is mostly neutral, with green, chlorophyll-like notes that can add a pleasant complexity to certain drinks.
“If you are using a pure CBD oil, it will taste earthy and plant-like, but this can be a great addition to many cocktails—a lot of gin and amaro-based cocktails work very well with this mixture,” says Fleming. “It also can add a viscous mouthfeel that I find delightful in a nice stirred cocktail.”
Rachel Burkons, founder of the culinary cannabis company Altered Plates, agrees, explaining that the terpene content found in gin makes it a natural partner to CBD. “We’ve found that gin-based drinks and other cocktails with a botanical twist work well, mostly because they’re also terpene-rich,” she says. “Many of those flavors are also the building blocks of flavor in cannabis and hemp.”
Meanwhile, owner-bartender Johnny Swet of New York’s Jimmy at the James says sometimes he likes to go even further, adding the hemp flavor directly to the spirit by fat-washing it—a form of infusion—in addition to adding a CBD component. But he opts for a different method depending on the drink’s other ingredients, experimenting with tinctures, teas, and even edibles: his Jeff Spicoli Special fuses mezcal and Amaro Montenegro with pumpkin butter and a CBD gummy bear. For cocktails where the taste of CBD oil might overpower the other flavors, Swet recommends picking a spirit with a heavy dominant flavor of its own.
“To account for the taste of CBD in cocktails, I lean towards spirits with stronger flavors like mezcal, tequila, or bourbon,” Swet says. “Those three in particular seem to work best with CBD, but I also love pairing CBD with very flavorful, seasonal ingredients like pumpkin, apples, pears, and herbs including sage, mint, and rosemary.”
Despite the fun and versatility of CBD ingredients, Burkons cautions that adding CBD to drinks is still in a legal gray area. In July, the California Department of Health issued a notice to food-and-beverage operators, stating that it’s illegal to add CBD to food and drink, even threatening fines to Orange County cafe marketing the stuff as a dietary supplement. (To note, a hemp taqueria and CBD smoothie bar are still operating in LA).
“Not to be a total downer, but the one thing I’ve had to educate most of my friends and clients on is the fact that, at the end of the day, this just isn’t legal,” Burkons says. “While there are currently steps happening to make hemp and hemp-derived CBD federally legal, at this moment, these products and their on-premise application are not compliant.”