Cheech and Chong. Harold and Kumur. Shaggy and Scooby. Cannabis has always had its double acts. Well, how about food and drink?
Marijuana is undergoing a makeover, appearing on menus across the UK in the form of a plant extract, and while dope's bong-less incarnation won't get you high (wait, what?), it will make you better.
The story of CBD oil starts as far back as the sixties, when neuropharmacologists, wearing rastacaps and hot-boxing the shit out of the laboratory (let's imagine) wanted to find out how the seven-pointed leaf made people hippy-dippy.
By the mid-1990s they'd cracked the "grass route" but they'd also discovered something else: that while our bodies react to the psychotropic chemical compound found in the marijuana plant (tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) we also react to the 100-plus non-psychotropic compounds, many of which have been proven to possess significant therapeutic properties, from alleviating anxiety, to boosting memory, to tackling insomnia, and it's believed many more remain unknown or unproven. As a recent headline in the New York Times decreed, 'CBD Is Everywhere, but Scientists Still Don't Know Much About It'.
In the UK, it has been legal to prescribe non-psychoactive cannabis-based products since November 2018, after the government caved to pressure in the wake of several high-profile cases, including that of a 12-year-old boy whose epilepsy was eased by cannabis oil. In turn, this paved the way for the sale of cannabis-based products in health shops and other outlets. Most notably cannabidiol, or CBD, as it's more commonly known.
Mixed with a base oil, like coconut, and sold as CBD oil, cannabidiol won't make you laugh at cat videos or open and shut your fridge every 15-minutes like its cousin THC. But even if it doesn't give you the giggles, it's proving as popular as the Dude in The Big Lebowski. And since the law change in the UK, CBD oil has appeared, and continues to do so, in all kinds of food and drink.
Since the law change in the UK, CBD oil has appeared, and continues to do so, in all kinds of food and drink
Take The Canna Kitchen in Brighton, the UK's first cannabis restaurant, which has a menu including sunflower seed pesto, dill coconut cream, and cranberry purée, all laced with CBD. A CBD-infused spring water, Love Hemp Water, launched last spring, too. Then there's clean-eating hub Farmacy, which serves CBD-imbued truffles and croissants; while Hackney's Plant Hub dishes up CBD-soaked granola energy bars, peanuts, and a dessert slice with a CBD coconut biscuit base, hemp caramel and chocolate ganache (now that's a gourmet space cake!). Last year, vegan restaurant By Chloe, during a month-long pop-up, served a CBD-infused peanut butter bone for dogs. Woof. Even canines have the hankering. The doobie has had its day, so it seems: long live CBD.
Tim Moxey is the British-born founder of Botanica Seattle, a US-based 'cannabis edibles' company that makes everything from cookies to gummies to topicals (cannabis-infused lotions and balms). Moxey says CBD's popularity is thanks to years of positive media exposure in the States, which has led to the subsequent public understanding that it's "a safe, legal, holistic remedy" for a multitude of ailments. "It's rare for a new trend to actually work," says Moxey, who this year launched
Mr Moxy's Mints in the UK, "but CBD is different. There are thousands of everyday symptoms that CBD has proven to help with, meaning there's a reason for almost everyone to give it a go. At worst, it just won't work for you, so it's worth a try."
There are thousands of everyday symptoms that CBD has proven to help with
Emerging technologies in recent years that have simplified the extraction of CBD from the plant and improved growing techniques – as well as legalisation efforts in the US and Canada to loosen the law on the wider use of cannabis, and ultimately boost development of new products and formats – have both contributed to the rise of CBD. But there's more to this leaf than that.
Maison Bab, the sister site of kebab joint Le Bab, say their best-selling cocktail is Gin & Chronic: a gin sour laced with CBD. Founder Stephen Tozer says the liquid-weed adds a "unique bitter, herbaceous and nutty" flavour, while others, like Camilla Fayed of Farmacy, say it brings a "subtle hint of earthiness."
"It's similar to adding a new botanical to a gin. It works so well against the sweet profile of a simple sour," Tozer says. "Customers love it. A lot of people say that it zens them out a bit. We like to think it makes an alcoholic drink a little more virtuous."
It's also an incredibly low-cost ingredient to use. At gourmet ice cream brand, Yogland, in West London, the CBD frozen yoghurt is rotated on for the summer months, and is as easy to make as racking a bong. They add the CBD oil when mixing the custom froyo base with raw matcha powder. It's the same process if they were including something familiar, like peanut paste. "It's really that simple," says director Omid Tehrani.
Minor Figures, the 100% plant based coffee company, are also on the CBD trip, just not for the flavour. Their CBD Post Coffee Drops – flavoured with peppermint and dripped beneath the tongue and held there for 30 seconds – were developed after co-founder Stuart Forsyth sampled CBD in New York. He admits the "tongue-in-cheek" marketing potential did entice him, calling it a "provocative concept", a tincture that is a "rescue-type remedy following the over consumption of coffee."
CBD is proving to be hugely versatile but ask any kind of junkie – from surfing to baking – and they'll tell you there's always more you can get out of a habit. Jay Warden, of the Disco Picnic Collective, is one such believer. He infuses his bar snacks and sauces (and bloody marys) with a water-soluble CBD formulation, which he claims can be absorbed five times quicker by the body than oils. "I don't believe you have to be vegan or eat a super clean diet to reap the rewards of cannabis extracts. Life is about balance and everything can be enjoyed in moderation," he says. Amen to that.
But it's not all happy days. In New York this year a clampdown has resulted in CBD getting chopped from menus all over Manhattan, with the Department of Health arguing that it hasn't been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food additive.
Similarly, in the UK, the Food Standards Agency is currently trying to reclassify the use of CBD to a 'novel food' (CBD products with a higher THC content than 0.2 are already under tighter regulation). This could mean the closure of many CBD businesses. Tozer hopes it doesn't come to that. "I'm a user and there seems to be growing evidence of enormous health benefits. It would seem crazy to try to crack down on it. But with the way politics is going these days, who knows?"
Too true. So whose turn is it to skin up? Wait. Sorry. No. I mean: book a table…