Coke Considering Cannabis Drinks

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

These are heady times in the beverage industry, with dozens of companies introducing cannabis-based drinks – from sparkling water to herbal teas to cold brew coffee. After decades of being ostracized on Main Street and Wall Street, marijuana is suddenly trendy.

The largest beverage company in the world – Coca-Cola -- is even thinking about entering the rapidly growing cannabis market. According to BNN Bloomberg, Coke is in serious talks with Aurora Cannabis of Canada to develop a cannabis-infused beverage that would be marketed as a “recovery drink” that eases inflammation, pain and muscle cramps.  

It’s not clear if Coke is interested in a joint venture with Aurora or if it would buy a stake in the Edmonton-based company. Coke said it would not comment on “speculation.”

“We have no interest in marijuana or cannabis. Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world. The space is evolving quickly. No decisions have been made at this time,” Coke said in a statement.

Could a CBD-infused drink provide pain relief? Marijuana researcher Yasmin Hurd, PhD, told NBC News it's unlikely that a beverage made with CBD could have health benefits because a high dose of about 200 milligrams is needed to be effective.

“CBD gets broken down and metabolized quickly in the body,” said Hurd, who is director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital. “The amount that would get in the bloodstream from a drink would not have an effect.”

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The efficacy of CBD-infused drinks may not be proven, but the potential profits are. According to a new report by Ameri Research, the global medical cannabis market was valued at $8.9 billion in 2016 and is projected to grow to nearly $33 billion by 2024.

Twenty-eight U.S. states currently allow the sale of medical marijuana, while 9 states allow recreational sales. Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, but products made from cannabidiol (CBD) – the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – are being sold in all 50 states.

Canada already permits medical usage and next month recreational use will be legalized nationwide. Because of that, several beverage makers besides Coke are interested in partnering with Canadian cannabis companies.

Last month, Corona beer brewer Constellation Brands announced it would spend $3.8 billion to increase its stake in Canopy Growth, a Canadian marijuana producer. Molson Coors Brewing is starting a joint venture to develop cannabis drinks in Canada. And Heineken has launched a craft-brew label specializing in non-alcoholic drinks infused with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

“Interest has spiked from the beer industry on mounting evidence of a substitution relationship between cannabis and alcohol, while large soda companies increasingly view CBD as a natural fit within their strategically important wellness offerings,” wrote Canaccord Genuity analyst Bobby Burleson in a research note.

Canaccord projects that CBD and THC infused drinks could become a $600 million market in the U.S. within the next four years.

“Medical and wellness benefits include suppression of seizures, pain relief, reduction of anxiety and a host of other therapeutic effects,” said Burleson. “We note that that the medical benefits of CBD have recently been bolstered by the FDA’s approval of Epidiolex, a CBD based drug developed to treat epilepsy. It follows that CBD also offers significant potential as the basis for a wellness beverage.”