Cannabis Cocktails & Drinks: What You Should Know

Drink your medicine, but proceed with caution

Cannabis Cocktails and Mixed Drinks
The Spruce / S&C Design Studios

Have you toyed with the thought of adding cannabis to your cocktails? Since countries like Canada and 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. Cannabis drinks are not all about a new way to get high, either. Many cannabis users are interested in them for their medicinal benefits.

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, smoking a joint, or using medicinal CBD oil. If you choose to combine the two into a beverage, a new level of understanding, responsibility, and moderation is required.

THC and CBD

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 marijuana "high," while CBD has no psychoactive effect but is instead promoted for its medicinal benefits.

Marijuana contains both THC and CBD (along with hundreds of other compounds), and the value of each varies from one marijuana strain to the next. CBD is also derived from hemp, an entirely different cannabis plant that does not contain THC. There are cannabis products that contain both compounds, CBD with only traces of THC, or hemp-derived CBD alone.

Marijuana and Alcohol Precautions

The clear facts are that marijuana will get you high, and alcohol can get you drunk. Both are sedatives, but they cause different reactions within the body, and that is where the concern lies.

Those who drink know that liquor can hit you rather quickly. Like edibles, it takes longer to feel the effects of cannabis "drinkables" than when smoking marijuana. Depending on your personal metabolism, regularity of use, and other factors, it can take an hour or two to feel the high from a marijuana-infused drink. The feeling can also last longer or be more intense than you might expect or necessarily enjoy. It is not uncommon for drinkers to feel high for five to six hours; some report feeling its effects into the next day or experiencing a level of paranoia not typical of normal marijuana use. While that applies to THC, some people experience drowsiness and other less intense effects with CBD-only cocktail ingredients.

These concerns and conversations extend into the bartending community because some bars in states where recreational cannabis is legal are serving cannabis cocktails. The majority use CBD oil for its taste. Though the laws are continually changing, it is illegal in most countries to combine THC and alcohol for commercial purposes, whether in bars or alcoholic products like beer, liquor, and wine. In products like cannawine, hemp seeds are used for flavor.

Cannabis cocktails
The Spruce Eats / Lara Antal

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 or the dose of CBD, and the potency of the drink itself become key factors. No one can tell you how any drink is going to affect you.

In his book, "Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails, and Tonics," Warren Bobrow (aka the "Cocktail Whisperer") takes the apothecary approach and offers excellent advice for easing into cannabis drinks. Bobrow is well-experienced in mixing cannabis and alcohol and could be considered the go-to "authority" in the canna cocktail world. When speaking with him, you really understand his expertise in this topic, so his advice should not go unheeded.

Overall, the message is to take it low and slow. Due to the unpredictability of cannabis drinks, Bobrow offers these precautions:

  • Start with nonalcoholic drinks and small dosages of cannabis-infused ingredients such as creamers, syrups, and tinctures. It can be something as simple as Bobrow's Turkish coffee recipe, which uses a dollop of cannabutter in a take on Vietnamese coffee. You can also add a dose of cannabis tincture to a glass of soda or ease into it with CBD tea.
  • When and if you begin to experiment with cannabis cocktails, follow a proven recipe from a reputable source, like those in Bobrow's book. Do not stray from the recipe or overpour the liquor or cannabis ingredient until you know how it affects you.
  • Drink your first canna drinks in a safe environment such as your home, just in case you get too high or drowsy. Do not drive; it is not only illegal but also unsafe.
  • 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 and give it a few hours.
  • Limit how many cannabis drinks you have each day. Bobrow recommends playing it safe and sticking with a single infused drink per night.

When Drinkables Are Too Much

Bobrow passed on a simple trick in an interview just in case you overdo it on drinkables: Should 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 a few peppercorns or cloves.

Creating Cannabis-Infused Mixers

There are several ways to get cannabis into your drinks. Where marijuana is legal, many of these can be homemade, though the potency and dose required will vary with each batch. Dispensaries may also offer these ingredients and have a better ability to control potency.

Before you can add cannabis to drink ingredients, it needs to be decarboxylated ("decarbed," for short). This is because the active compounds in marijuana only become active with heat, which is why smoking is so effective. Decarbing is easy and can be done in your kitchen. It is, however, a pungent process. If you are concerned about neighbors or visitors, you will need to take precautions or select a method that reduces the odor.

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

  • Cannabis-infused liquors: These are created similarly to other homemade liquor infusions but with heat. Bobrow's book has tips for the process and recommendations for strain-liquor pairings.
  • Cannabutter, cream, or syrup: These are quick ways to drink your medicine in any beverage. Adding lecithin helps your body absorb the cannabis compounds more quickly.
  • Cannabis tinctures and oils: These concentrated liquids are popular among medical marijuana patients. The THC and CBD contents vary greatly, and CBD-only tinctures and oils are available. Tinctures can be powerful, so a single drop is often all that is needed for a drink. 
  • Cannabis bitters: Just like the bitters used often in the bar, these are also very concentrated, and a few dashes go a long way.

How Do Cannabis Drinks Taste?

If you have any experience with cannabis, then you already have an idea of its unique flavor. No matter the cannabis ingredient, it adds an herbal undertone to any drink you mix it into.

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

Cannabis is a surprisingly versatile flavor pairing that mixes well with a variety of ingredients and most liquors. It's worth exploring how it tastes with fruits, cream, sweets like chocolate, and other herbal ingredients.