Are CBD Drinks All Hype? Evaluating 7 drinks by their taste and effect

[Feature image by Justin Aikin]

Scott Meslow is a culture critic whose other bylines include GQ, Vulture, The Week, and The Atlantic

(Note: A portion of the fee for this article has been donated to the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization dedicated to reducing the role of criminalization and advocating for responsible, equitable, and legal regulation of marijuana.)

If you’ve kicked around health-food stores or wellness blogs over the past year or so, you’ve probably encountered some form of CBD: Oils, or creams, or beverages. Proponents of CBD claim a variety of health benefits, including pain relief, reduced anxiety, and an increased sense of wellbeing.

And sure, I’d prefer less pain and less anxiety, and more being well! So I decided to embark on a weeklong experiment: Seven days of CBD drinks, which are turning up—in greater varieties, on more shelves—all the time. I’d evaluate how they tasted, and evaluate how they made me feel—and at the end of it all, decide if any of them had earned a regular spot in my diet.

cbd drinks new york post

Stefano Giovannini at The New York Post

Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive. (Translation: CBD will not get you high.)

A few things I learned upfront:

  • Hemp-derived CBD is legal in all 50 states. (Marijuana-derived CBD is more complicated.)
  • Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive. (Translation: CBD will not get you high.)
  • CBD beverages can be surprisingly hard to come by! I tried a few dispensaries in Los Angeles, but none of them had any in stock, or immediate plans to stock more. And I couldn’t find any at convenience stores, either.
cbd drinks weed shop

Example of a dispensary, photo by Alex Person

  • Finally, I found a stash at a smoke shop in my neighborhood, which specialized in cigars but had a small CBD counter. I’ve since learned that health-food stores sometimes stock CBD beverages, so you can try there. And if there’s a specific brand you’re interested in trying, check out their website — they usually list their areas of distribution. (You can also buy online, but that usually means buying in bulk.)
  • When you’re buying, make sure you check the label confirm that the beverages actually contain CBD. I ended up with several beverages like Hemp20, which—when mixed amongst the CBD beverages, certainly looked like it contained CBD. But when got home and checked the label, I learned it actually just contains hemp seed oil.
  • Most importantly—and something you should never forget—none of the claims about CBD have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and the cottage industry around CBD is broadly unregulated.
  • If you love CBD, great! Don’t let me take that away from you. But the research on positive effects of CBD is murky at best—and the closest thing we have to “proof” involves experiments that relied on literally 10 times or more CBD than you’ll find in your average CBD beverage. (You can read a lengthy, helpful explainer about what we do and don’t know about CBD over at Vox.)

Day 1: Fresh Water Premium CBD Beverage

cbd drinks fresh water cbd

Left: The New Smoker / Right: home photo

How much does it cost?

About $4

Where can you buy it?

Not available online. (I found it locally.)

How much CBD?

2 mg

How did it taste?

You know how some people insist on paying a premium for Fiji water even though it’s, uh, water? Fresh Water Premium CBD Beverage reminded me of that. Sorry to disappoint—but it tasted exactly like water, and I felt exactly the same after I drank it.

Day 2: Zero Sugar Sprig — Sparkling Melon

cbd drinks sprig cbd soda

Left: Sprig website/ Right: home photo

How much does it cost?

About $4 per can

Where can you buy it?

Online.

How much CBD?

20 mg

How did it taste?

Sprig has gotten a fair amount of press for what is, admittedly, a pretty timely hook: LaCroix, but with CBD in it. The website is full of yoga pictures and blogs about music festivals. The marketing copy pitches it for drinkers who are “healthy” and “active.” Every can specifies that Sprig is zero sugar, and it comes in flavors like citrus and lemon and melon.

I tried the melon. And yes: It’s basically LaCroix (or any other, similar brand of flavored sparkling water).

It doesn’t so much taste like melon as wink at the concept of what a melon might taste like.

It’s a reasonably refreshing beverage that’s probably worse for you than water and definitely better for you than soda.

It’s also worth noting that Sprig had more CBD in it than any other beverage I tried. And I felt… fine? I was plenty relaxed, but I also wasn’t having a particularly stressful day, so I’m not gonna give the Sprig all that much credit for it.

Day 3: CBD Ultra Pure

cbd drinks cbd ultra pure urban hemp water

Left: CBD Ultra Pure website / Right: home photo

How much does it cost?

About $7

Where can you buy it?

Not available online. (I found it locally.)

How much CBD?

Weirdly—and troublingly!—I could not find this information anywhere.

How did it taste?

After my experience on Day 1, I decided to get the second CBD water out of the way. And what do you know? It’s water again!

And look: We could all stand to drink more water, so this definitely isn’t bad for you. But you could have told me this was tap water or electrolyte water or CBD water, and I swear I wouldn’t have known the difference. After I finished the bottle, I did have a strong urge to kick back, put my feet up, and play the new Resident Evil game—but frankly, that was gonna be true matter what I was drinking.

Day 4: VYBES — Blueberry Mint & Maracuja Sparkling

cbd drinks vybes hemp drink

Left: PeopleMap / Right: home photo

How much does it cost?

About $8

Where can you buy it?

Online.

How much CBD?

15 mg. (Since I tried it for this article, VYBES has increased the amount of CBD per bottle to 25 mg.)

How did it taste?

I actually tried two flavors of this brand: Blueberry Mint and Maracuja (passionfruit). I’d skip the Maracuja, which tasted good on first sip but eventually settled with a weird, funky aftertaste that had me running for a bottle of mouthwash.

The Blueberry Mint was the tastiest of all the juices I tried: Unusual, refreshing, and not too sweet.

Which is great, if you’re in the market for some juice. But at this point in the experiment I was getting a little frustrated. I didn’t feel more healthier, or more relaxed, or any of the benefits all these brands had been claiming.

So I did some research. And the solution, according to those same brands? Buy more CBD beverages, because drinking one of these enhances the positive effects. Thanks, guys.

Day 5: Sol-ti — Peach Lemon CBD+ Tea

cbd drinks sol ti

Left: Sol Ti website / Right: home photo

How much does it cost?

About $10

Where can you buy it?

Online.

How much CBD?

18 mg

How did it taste?

Sol-ti is a pretty big business, with a whole slew of beverages—including cleanses and superfood-infused teas—so it’s no surprise that they’re establishing a beachhead in the potentially lucrative CBD market. Right now, they sell Peach Lemon, Ginger Lemon, and Hibiscus Lime varieties; I went with the Peach Lemon.

And it tasted like… peach and lemon. Closer to peach. I’m not clear on what makes it “CBD+”—the website brags about it being “packed with polyphenols,” so maybe that’s it?—but on the whole, this was a perfectly acceptable, and in no way exceptional, bottle of tea.

Day 6: CBD Latte (local coffee shop)

cbd drinks cbd latte

Left: Adventure Sports Network / Right: home photo

How much does it cost?

$8.75 (plus tip)

Where can you buy it?

At an unusually hip coffee shop.

How much CBD?

“Not that much.” —the barista

How did it taste?

At this late stage of this experiment, I decided it was time to switch things up. So I veered away from the prepackaged waters and juices and went to a particularly bougie Los Angeles coffee shop I walk by all the time, which has a marquee proudly proclaiming, “CBD lattes inside!”

So I ordered one. At this particular coffee shop, you can make any beverage a CBD beverage (by adding CBD oil) for an extra $5. After he made it, the barista told me he would have recommended a CBD chai latte instead, which “disguises the flavor better.”

But to my surprise, I actually liked the flavor of the latte better when it had CBD in it.

The CBD blended nicely with the sweetness of the milk, adding a kind of vaguely herbal edge to the latte. Some sips tasted kind of like hazelnut; others tasted like mint. Either way, it was the best-tasting CBD beverage I tried all week.

Day 7: Green Roads — CBD Chamomile Tea

cbd drinks green roads cbd tea

Left: Green Roads website / Right: home photo

How much does it cost?

About $7 per single-serving teabag.

Where can you buy it?

Online.

How much CBD?

7 mg

How did it taste?

Pretty great! I’m generally more into coffee than tea, but I was definitely down for a cup of this. The flavor was actually chamomile/vanilla (which, as far as I can tell, is the only flavor of CBD tea this company makes).

And it was definitely relaxing to curl up on the couch with a cup of this tea and knock out some Netflix. Then again, my wife was drinking regular chamomile tea, and she seemed pretty relaxed too.

cbd drinks cbd tea

Alexandre Chambon

So at the end of this week, what have I learned?

CBD water is a total grift

CBD juices are, well, juices. If there’s a flavor you enjoy, you’ll probably enjoy the CBD version too. But did I feel any effect that justified the extra money I spent on it? In a word: No.

CBD had a clear effect on the flavor of a latte—and to my surprise, I liked it! But not enough to spend $8.75 at a hipster coffee shop.

CBD chamomile tea—despite its low dosage—actually made me feel more relaxed. But again: What kind of chamomile tea doesn’t make you feel tired?

So maybe these beverages really did boost my immune system or decrease my muscle pain, and I just couldn’t feel it. It’s also possible, of course, that I’m just one of those people on whom CBD doesn’t have much of an effect. Most of the brands I sampled are very careful to specify that CBD works differently for everybody—and, of course, that none of their claims about the wonders of CBD have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

That said: I came to this assignment vaguely curious about CBD, and walked away deeply skeptical of it. If you’re curious, go ahead and give it a shot. Why not? Maybe it’ll do something for you. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll walk away thinking that you just threw a lot of extra money on the same kinds of beverages you can find at your average 7-Eleven.

Read next – Celebrity Liquor Brands: Are They Any Good?

Scott Meslow

Scott Meslow

Scott Meslow is a culture critic whose other bylines include GQ, Vulture, The Week, and The Atlantic. His career has taken him from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. to New York City and then, somehow, back to Los Angeles again.
Scott Meslow