What’s with all the hype about Marijuana Beer?

Brewers and consumers alike are abuzz with questions about marijuana beer – what exactly is in it, where they can get it, and if the product is even legal. We’ll explain all that here!

Background

marijuana beer cannabis

Recreational marijuana use has become legal in more than ten states already, and lots of others are already introducing legislation to legalize it in the future. It turns out that as cannabis consumption increases, beer, wine, and spirits sales drop. This trend has led brewers to explore the idea of marrying marijuana and beer together. (If you can’t beat them, join them!) With the increase in popularity of marijuana due to legalization AND the continued growth of the craft beer market, there’s now a real demand for craft beers that contain cannabis.

Remember, though, that marijuana is still federally illegal. So companies are still restricted in how they can distribute, market, and label their marijuana beer products.

First, let’s review some history and context. Though hops and cannabis have similar properties and are even genetically related as plants, the idea of combining cannabis and beer is a relatively new concept. To formalize the legality of combining two controlled substances, the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco and Trade Bureau) drafted a Hemp Policy in 2000. The policy required an approval process to sell beer that had cannabis in it.

In addition to submitting a list of ingredients and numerous lab tests identifying THC levels, the policy prohibited companies from using hemp terms or images on any labeling. There were also strict requirements banning THC in quantities that would cause a psychoactive effect.

One of the first companies to get approval was Dad & Dudes Breweria, located in Aurora, Colorado. Their Dank IPA was released in 2011, and they created a follow-up Sativa IPA and Indica Double IPA. Even though the brews contained non-psychoactive cannabidiol, the DEA still ultimately classified it as a Schedule I controlled substance and demanded they pull it off the shelves.

Dad & Dudes is currently in a legal battle with the DEA and are expecting a favorable outcome. They have a new formula they’re hoping to release called General Washington’s Secret Stash. Fun fact: the name is a reference to the fact that the United States’ first President was a hemp grower.

With the prediction of cannabis becoming legal for recreational use everywhere within the next few years, more companies are jumping on the marijuana bandwagon. Last year, Canada legalized marijuana nationwide, which has inspired US-based companies to enter the Canadian markets with their eye on selling in the US as soon as it becomes legal.

marijuana beer collection

A notable icon who’s exploring cannabis beverages is rapper Wiz Khalifa. In addition to filing trademarks for beer using the brand name Khalifa Kush, he’s also planning a line that includes juice, carbonated drinks, and non-alcoholic cocktails.

Expect to see more big players entering the niche soon. Coors has partnered with a company in Canada and Heineken has also released its own non-alcoholic marijuana beverages under their Lagunitas brand name.

So… is it legal?

Currently (Summer 2019), it’s federally illegal to combine THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) with an alcoholic beverage. So a manufacturer can’t ship THC-infused beer across state lines. There may also be issues for consumers about where one can consume it, since several states’ laws (even where marijuana is legal) dictate you can’t consume marijuana in public.

There’s a bit of a gray area as well. Currently, the FDA says that CBD can’t be added to food, drinks, and dietary supplements. But that doesn’t stop hundreds of companies from manufacturing and selling thousands of products anyway. Former officials say that the FDA doesn’t have enough staff to enforce the law. Some states are individually passing legislation to support companies in the field.

The Difference Between “CBD Beer” and “Marijuana Beer”

different marijuana beer types

This can get confusing, so here is a high-level summary!

“Cannabis,” “THC,” “CBD,” “marijuana” etc. all semantically (and chemically) derive from the cannabis plant. THC and CBD are chemicals that produce different effects on the body (thus, the law often treats CBD and THC as separate substances, even though they both come from the cannabis plant). The term “marijuana” was more of a slang term that made it into the legal vocabulary in the 1930s. (Recall all the stereotypes and misinformation in Reefer Madness? That’s from that era).

To distinguish between the cannabis plant that was used in industrial hemp products, the term marijuana over time became more associated with THC. “CBD” implied THC-free hemp derived from the cannabis plant. In the present day, marijuana is known as the dried parts of the cannabis plant used as a drug.

So, the difference between CBD beer and marijuana beer can be described as follows:

“CBD beer” generally doesn’t contain THC (though this is not always the case), while “marijuana beer” does have significant amounts of THC. 

The chemistry behind all of this

hops beta acids chemistry

The main components of beer are relatively basic. They typically include water, grains, hops, yeast, and other plants that add to the flavor. When beer contains cannabis, it’s brewed by using the roots, stalks, and stems from the plant. They’re ground down and liquefied before being added to the brew.

So, instead of using barley as in a traditional beer, some types of cannabis beer contain components of the cannabis plant (actually making it a gluten-free and low-calorie beverage!). Another option is to add extracts toward the end of the brewing process.

Will you get high?

The short answer is “it depends.” If the beer contains enough THC, then yes, you’ll experience a high – just like eating pot brownies, which gets the THC into your system through the digestive system instead of through the lungs. However, remember that since it’s currently illegal to combine alcohol with THC, a low-level THC beer, CBD beer or hemp beer will not get you high. Note, though, that despite not getting high, the drinker may have some noticeable effects, primarily a sense of calm. This is similar to the effects from those chemicals consumed through any other method (e.g., CBD oils). Note too that some types of CBD beer have high alcohol content, so in addition to feeling calm, you can also get drunk faster than expected. Lastly, remember that the overall experience is also different from consuming a CBD-oil product or smoking weed because drinking beer is a more socially acceptable behavior with a lot less taboo involved.

Can I make it myself??

home-brewed marijuana beer

If you’re curious, one thing you can do is try to brew it yourself! Check out our popular guide to homebrewing.

In states where weed and CBD are legal, you can make and consume marijuana beer. The beer can contain both alcohol and THC (or choose THC-free CBD, if you prefer). Once you master the recipe, your house will be the most popular on the block!

We like this video tutorial from Slate on how to make “Tangerine High-PA.”

Here is a summarized play by play:

  • The process itself is similar to brewing regular beer, starting with water and grains that you’ll soak and then drain.
  • Then, as per usual, you’ll begin the boiling process and then add your favorite hops. Steep the concoction and add Irish Moss to make the beer clear.
  • Let everything cool to about 67 degrees before fermenting. Put the liquid in a fermenter, and then top off with water after cooling if necessary to achieve volume. Add yeast, and close with an airlock that allows carbon dioxide to expel.
  • The length of the fermentation process varies, but we recommend starting with four days and then siphoning the liquid at the top to a second fermenter. Then ferment for another ten days, for a total of two weeks.
  • Start by making a tincture by dissolving Tangerine Strain hash oil in ethanol. The suggested ratio is 100 mg of hash oil for every 1 ml of ethanol. We choose Tangerine Strain for its uplifting effect. There’s no reason alcohol has to be a depressant! The terpenes also complement well with citrusy hops, giving the overall aroma a distinct fruit flavor. Finish off the formula by adding .5 ml of hash oil to each 12 oz. bottle.
  • Once you bottle and seal the beer, let it sit for 30 days to achieve the desired combination. Enjoy at your leisure and share… if you must.

Further reading…

Curious to try some “marijuana beers” made by the pros?

Check out list of Top 5 Marijuana-related brews!