As recently as 2018, cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive cannabis-derived compound commonly known as CBD, was being hailed as the new "'it' ingredient in cocktails" by the likes of High Times magazine.
"Trailblazing bartenders up and down the state of California are rushing to embrace CBD as a way of making their cocktails unique, healthy, and hangover-free," the magazine reported. "CBD cocktails may not be on every bar menu—but according to some of the bartenders working with this cannabis oil, it could be in the future."
In Los Angeles, in particular, CBD cocktails seemed practically ubiquitous. There were drinks like Bluebird Brasserie's Gentle Monk, with gin, bergamot, Cocchi Rosa Americano, citrus, and absinthe; the Pirate's Gold, with cachaça, yellow chartreuse, avocado pit orgeat, germanium, thyme, lime juice, and Gold Flora CBD oil, at the Freehand Hotel; and the Stoney Negroni and the Rolled Fashioned—both pot-infused riffs on classics—at Gracias Madre.
The birth of CBD as a cocktail ingredient played to two different trends: the legalization of recreational pot in California and other states, and the revitalization of craft cocktails that began in the early 2000s, which emphasized, among other things, innovative uses of once-obscure ingredients. Cocktails including the ingredient were ubiquitous in trendy L.A. bars; CBD was set to be the new mezcal.
Within a year, however, the next big thing became yesterday's news. In September 2018, just months before leaving office, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown approved Assembly Bill 2914, which forbid bars and restaurants from mixing CBD with alcohol. Despite the legality of both substances, they couldn't be mixed and sold together—or even on the same site.
Any business with a license to sell alcohol was strictly forbidden from "selling, offering, or providing cannabis or cannabis products." Businesses that failed to comply risked losing their alcohol license, or worse.
When the law when into effect in 2019, Vice reported, CBD drinks quickly disappeared from bar and restaurant menus. The state's government had killed a burgeoning cocktail trend.
The state's prohibition on recreational pot consumption had ended, but another one had sprung up behind it. And the new one had about as much justification as the old one—which is to say, not much.
In theory, the ban was intended to protect public health. "Mixing alcohol and cannabis can lead to dangerous interactions, including a compounding impairment effect," the state assembly said in analysis intended to support the bill. "This is why states that have legalized adult-use or medical-use cannabis strongly warn against the consumption of alcohol and cannabis at the same time."
The problem was that there was little evidence to support the notion that CBD was particularly dangerous when mixed with alcohol. CBD is not psychoactive, but it is often described as producing a calming effect or "body high"––a sense of relaxation or chill. And while some experts suggest that the main effect of combining CBD with alcohol is to enhance the effects of both, several studies have found that CBD reduces some of the effects of alcohol, showing lower levels of blood alcohol, for example. Studies on rodents have found combining CBD and alcohol produced less neurodegeneration and less liver damage than alcohol alone. As a separate Vice report noted, CBD even "can counteract alcohol's effects."
This, in turn, suggests another reason to be skeptical of prohibitions on CBD mixed with alcohol. Because of its perceived body-high effects, CBD is often used by people suffering from minor persistent pain or sleeping troubles. For some people, then, it can serve as an alternative to sleeping pills or traditional pain medications—both of which are more likely to have dangerous interactions when mixed with alcohol. So for regular drinkers who have minor aches or trouble sleeping, CBD is often preferable to conventional pain medications or sleeping pills.
Apart from the medical specifics, there's another reason to bring back CBD cocktails in California: They can be delicious drinks that also help some people feel good. That's reason enough to both consume them, and to oppose laws that make doing so illegal.