Toast to Hangover-Free THC Wine Love the wine, hate the heartburn after. Want the mellow night-in, but not the throbbing head the next morning. If that sounds familiar, an Arizona vintner has come up with a drink to replace the cabernet with cannabis. Sweet Dreams Vineyards just launched two new alcohol-free adult drinks that nix the booze in exchange for THC, offering a quick and consistent cannabis effect that has been said to aid in sleep and pain management. Bill Gibbs, founder and owner of Sweet Dreams Vineyards in Phoenix, wanted to create a cannabis-based adult beverage that is tasty, low-calorie, and a healthier alternative to alcohol. “I think that with two-thirds of people in this country finding cannabis as a viable alternative [to alcohol]they’re ready for something like this, ”says Gibbs. The two new products from Sweet Dreams Vineyards, the Cannabernet wine and Marijuarita, deliver flavor profiles similar to wine and a traditional margarita without the taste of THC, the psychoactive ingredient that makes you feel stoned. The Cannabernet, which is sold in 750 mL and 187 mL bottles, is made with blueberry and pomegranate juice. The Marijuarita, which is currently only sold in 187 mL bottles, is made with lime juice. Both products contain zero alcohol and are available in THC strengths of 10 mg, 50 mg, or 100 mg. The idea for the nonalcoholic beverages came to Gibbs while attending a cannabis convention in Las Vegas. During the convention, Gibbs jokingly slapped a cannabis sticker on a random bottle of wine and people started to ask questions. “Almost everybody that came by wanted to know about the wine,” says Gibbs, who through a stroke of luck and wit found that there was a real interest in an alternative to alcohol using cannabis. click to enlarge Bill Gibbs, founder and owner of Sweet Dreams Vineyards. Paul Markow Photography The former president of the University of Phoenix has been in the cannabis industry for quite a while. He was the former co-owner of Urban Greenhouse (now Harvest House of Cannabis) and a former board member of the Arizona Dispensaries Association. He fought, successfully, to get Proposition 207 passed in Arizona, clearing the way for legal adult-use marijuana throughout the state. When the idea of cannabis-infused beverages came to him, he thought it would be simple, given the proximity to California, which is known for its abundance of great wineries, and Arizona’s expanding vineyards. Unfortunately, nonalcoholic wine tastes terrible, according to Gibbs. Try substituting in THC for alcohol and it’s horrendous. “I do not mean just kinda not great, I mean it is awful,” he says. After more than a year of experimenting with various flavor profiles and commissioning multiple labs and local sommeliers to test his products, he finally found a recipe that was worth trying. When asked who he envisions buying his products, he goes beyond describing the typical cannabis user who enjoys trying new types of edibles. Gibbs is targeting the entire alcohol-consuming public. “I’m trying to convert people from alcohol to cannabis,” says Gibbs. “Whether I’m successful is yet to be determined, but that’s the market that I’m going to go after.” Rita Ham of Sun City Grand is a convert. “It really helps me sleep,” the 75-year-old Ham says. She says she enjoys both the wine and the cocktail for a deeper sleep and for helping with her rheumatoid arthritis. At one point, medication for her rheumatoid arthritis was held up for two weeks. During that time, Ham took 10 ml of either the Cannabernet or the Marajuarita every night. “Normally, whenever I’m late for my treatment, my arthritis flares up terribly,” says Ham. “I was just amazed, even though I was two weeks late, my arthritis did not flare up at all.” click to enlarge The Marijuarita comes in 187-milliliter bottles in THC strengths of 10 mg, 50 mg, or 100 mg. Jacqueline Hanna Photography Gibbs’ main interest in nonalcoholic pot-laced beverages stems from the notion that they are a healthier alternative to inhaling cannabis or consuming traditional alcoholic beverages. One 2020 study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health surveyed 832 US adults over 21 years of age concerning their alcohol consumption habits during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study found that while 13 percent of surveyed adults reported decreased drinking, 60 percent reported increased drinking compared to pre-COVID-19. Their reason for more drinking included increased stress, availability of alcohol, and boredom. A more recent study published last Friday by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that alcohol-related deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic rose because of increased drinking to cope with stress, more transplants for alcohol-associated liver disease, and a jump in emergency department visits for alcohol withdrawal. While there is no data that links cannabis usage to getting a better night’s sleep, many studies have linked alcohol consumption with an increased risk of overdose or death. “I’m not going to say there are no ill-health effects from cannabis, but no matter what yardstick you use, it is certainly a lot healthier than alcohol,” says Gibbs. Jacob Hanen of Phoenix enjoys the Marijuarita for its quick relaxation effect. “It’s a lot better than taking a gummy,” says Hanen, who mentioned the speed of the THC effect as well as the lack of taste of THC that can sometimes be off-putting for consumers of traditional edibles like gummies or chocolates. “If I’m tired, it will give me a good night’s rest,” says Hanen, a former minor league baseball player for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Sweet Dreams Vineyards conducted a user study group to compare its products to traditional alcoholic drinks and a typical THC edible. They found that a typical THC edible product will take 90 to 120 minutes to notice the effects, while products from Sweet Dreams Vineyards take about 15 minutes to feel the effects of THC. “You start to feel something at 15 minutes, at 20, 30 minutes you are pretty much there, and then in two to three hours you are pretty much out of it,” says Gibbs. The quick-acting effect of the THC in the wine and cocktail is delivered through nano-emulsification technology, which reduces the size of the THC molecules until they become water-soluble, allowing the THC to enter the bloodstream quickly. “You’ve got to shrink that THC down to less than 100 nanometers,” says Gibbs. For comparison, the width of a human hair is roughly 100,000 nanometers. At this micro level, the bitter taste of THC is almost nonexistent, especially when coupled with fresh pomegranate, blueberry, and lime juice. “We literally tested hundreds of various combinations and concentrations,” says Gibbs, when describing the final recipe for his products that do not use grapes. By removing alcohol from their wine, Sweet Dreams Vineyards found the tastiest profile using other tart fruits like pomegranates and blueberries. click to enlarge The Cannabernet comes in 750-mL and 187 mL bottles. Jacqueline Hanna Photography The Arizona cannabis industry generated $ 1.9 billion in sales for adult-use and medical cannabis combined in 2021, largely because of the launch of recreational sales in the state with the passing of Prop 207. According to a report by Headset, which tracks cannabis consumer trends, the majority of the cannabis industry growth last year can be attributed to the first few months of medical operations expanding their customer base from medical-only to all adults over the age of 21. Arizona cannabis-infused beverages account for a small share, just 0.6 percent, of the total cannabis sales in 2021. Still, a shift in consumer interest toward cannabis-infused beverages has slowly begun to find stronger interest from cannabis consumers. BDSA, a market research center with expertise in the legal cannabis market, cites that 19 percent of cannabis consumers in fully legal states purchase cannabis-infused beverages. The top occasions for consumption of cannabis-infused beverages were creativity, relaxing, and unwinding, especially at night or on a date. Dominique Jackson of Phoenix says that’s exactly why she drinks Marijuaritas. “It’s just a quick high that lasts long,” says Jackson, a bartender at Bacanora in Phoenix. “Smoking never really was for me just because I have high anxiety and I hated the burn in my throat.” Gibbs says more can be expected from Sweet Dreams Vineyards in the future, with the same focus on healthier alternatives to smoking cannabis or consuming alcohol. “I’m looking at 16-ounce water,” he says. “I think that’s even healthier for people and it may even come out as zero calories, but I do not know yet.” The Cannabernet and Marijuarita are currently being sold at two Valley dispensaries: the Herbal Wellness Center and Marigold in Phoenix.