What Is CBD Water? Everything You Need to Know

A drink of the utmost chill and laid-back order.

Cannabidiol has shown up in everything from balms to chicken wings, and now it's coming for your bubble water | Design by Jason Hoffman for Thrillist
Cannabidiol has shown up in everything from balms to chicken wings, and now it's coming for your bubble water | Design by Jason Hoffman for Thrillist

If you’re looking for a tasty beverage to get your blood pumping, there are no lack of options, from iced coffees to energy drinks to caffeinated Perrier. Hell, people are even mixing balsamic vinegar and sparkling water and calling it “healthy Coke” just to feel something. It’s the Wild West out there! But what if you don’t want a caffeine rush? What if you want a drink that promises to help you chill out and still traffics in delicious, natural flavors?

Enter: CBD sparkling water.

Cannabidiol—or CBD as it’s colloquially known—might be more popularly known as an additive in balms and tinctures, but it’s also frequently used in food and drink. Why, there’s even CBD coffee syrup and CBD green tea. But CBD sparkling water is poised to have its moment in the sun. It delivers a similar flavor profile to sparkling water brands like LaCroix and Spindrift while possibly offering an antidote to the desperate feeling of doomscrolling for 12 hours a day. (Not a promised claim, but we can only hope!)

We’ll fill you in on what exactly CBD contains and share some of the CBD seltzers worth a try. Follow us into the fascinating world of cannabidiol bubbly.

Wait, isn’t CBD illegal?

CBD is perfectly legal…except for it’s also super illegal. Welcome to America, where state and federal laws often conflict with each other, confusing the hell out of everyone! But thanks to the Farm Bill of 2018, approved entities can grow and sell hemp products and extracts.

In order for the hemp plant to be legal under federal law, unlike its weed brethren, it must contain less than .3% THC, which is the psychoactive compound in marijuana that gets you high. If cannabidiol is derived from the hemp plant and has less than .3% THC, it is legal under federal law.

Although CBD from hemp is legal federally, each state has its own laws and it may be illegal to possess it where you live. The laws get even more hazy for sparkling drinks that incorporate CBD.

“Nationwide, CBD is legal to consume on its own,” explained Robertson Allen, senior consultant at The Hartman Group, which advises food and beverage companies on consumer trends. “But when you’re putting CBD in a food or beverage product, then it becomes more of a regulatory issue that’s under the purview of the FDA.”

Sprig CBD water
Photo courtesy of Sprig

Michael Lewis, CEO of the CBD sparkling soda maker Sprig, said that the FDA has been clear about CBD in food and drink. “It’s simple,” he said. “The FDA does not allow CBD in food products today. It’s in conflict with the Farm Bill, which broadly legalized hemp and removed it from the controlled substances act. There’s been a lot of pressure on the FDA from both Congress and the public to allow these products.”

Last year, though, Congress introduced the CBD Product & Safety Standardization Act of 2021, which could determine the future of CBD regulations. If passed, it would “force the FDA to write new regulations setting the maximum amount of CBD allowed per serving in food, labeling and packaging requirements, and placing limits on use, including in categories of foods,” according to the non-profit, environmental advocacy organization EWG.

EWG suggests that “Congress should also ensure that the FDA, not food companies, determines whether and how CBD can be used safely.”

While the FDA has chosen not to take an active stance in regulating CBD in drinks thus far, that may change as soon as this year. Statista predicts the CBD drink market is expected to grow to $1.4 billion by 2023 (it was $86 million in 2016), showing that the trend isn’t going anywhere soon.

CBD water brands like Recess and DRAM have garnered grassroots following using Instagram | Photo courtesy of DRAM

Quenching thirst and anxiety

So why are companies investing in CBD, despite the fact that the FDA hasn’t regulated it yet? In addition to pain-reduction and other potential medical benefits, there’s some evidence that CBD could be beneficial in treating anxiety. And guess who has anxiety? Everyone. Especially young people.

“Millennials and Gen-Z consumers are really interested in cannabis—CBD based beverages, especially,” Allen said. “We found in our latest health and wellness study that the #1 health condition consumers are trying to treat or manage is anxiety.”

One of those people who treated anxiety with CBD is the founder and CEO of the beloved-on-Instagram Recess, Benjamin Witte. “I started experimenting with CBD oil about two years ago,” he said. “I’ve always naturally been a wired, hyper, anxious person. When I started using CBD regularly, I started to feel more balanced and even keel. I was more productive, more creative, and less anxious.”

He also recognized the importance of a strong brand. Sprite and Mountain Dew may spend millions pushing the narrative that you can be like a hip-hop superstar or a pro athlete if you drink it, CBD can claim to alter your mood.

“We’re marketing a feeling,” said Witte. “The taste is calm, cool, collected. The use case of taking a Recess is taking a moment throughout your day to reset, rebalance, and be your most productive and creative self. Like Red Bull is focused on action sports and Gatorade on athletics, Recess is focused on fashion, art, design, and internet culture.”

And it’s not just the CBD that makes these drinks appealing—Recess also adds ingredients like American ginseng, Schisandra (it “boosts vitality”), and L-theanine, which the company claims has a number of other health benefits, including “easing stress” and “brightening mood.”

DRAM Apothecary, a Colorado-based company that also has a serious Insta following, produces CBD sparkling water with more than just hemp as well.

“We added [adaptogenics] primarily because we found them to be effective in our own lives," explained Dram founder-owner Shae Whitney. “But also because there’s a ton of drinks coming out that are straight CBD, and we wanted to do something that was different. CBD is wonderful and has great health benefits, but so do other plants.”

Dram’s cans of Gingergrass include organic ingredients like ginger root, amla berry, rhodiola root, and Canadian chaga mushroom. The company said it’s formulated to help reduce inflammation in the body, or if you’re struggling with a hangover. “The main thing people almost always say is that they feel relaxed within a half hour of drinking it, and that they slept like a baby that night,” Whitney said.

Whether or not these drinks will make you feel “calm, cool, and collected” is dependent on how CBD affects you. “Some people can’t have coffee, others can have four coffees a day before bed,” Witte said. “Caffeine impacts everyone differently, just like CBD.”

Recess CBD water
Photo courtesy of Recess

Based in New York, the company has some of the best branding we’ve seen in the CBD space. We dare you not to think, “Damn, they’re good at Instagram” when scrolling through their feed. Recess currently offers three flavors: Blackberry Chai, Peach Ginger, and Pomegranate Hibiscus, which can be bought online as a “sampler” that includes two of each. It can be found in stores in NYC, Southern California, and Miami, with new markets launching this year and next.

The Newport Beach, California-based company once produced THC sodas, but has pivoted into CBD sodas with 0% THC, most of which are sweetened with stevia. Don’t worry, Sprig isn’t opposed to you MacGyvering their product into a hard seltzer alternative (the company has a few cocktail recipe ideas on its site). The Melon Zero Sugar is a bestseller.

Dram CBD Water
Photo courtesy of Dram

The Colorado company, which also produces CBD drops, found strong demand this summer for its organic CBD-filled Beauty Bubbles sparkling water with hibiscus and rose water. Dram is committed to the bubbly water game—the creativity of its CBD-free herbal sparkling water flavors put everyone else to shame. Sign us up for a can with orange blossom, hibiscus, and grapefruit/lemon/lime/orange rind flavors.

These cans of CBD water, with flavors like Lemon and Lime and Blood Orange, are a result of a joint venture between old-school Colorado brewery Left Hand and Waayb Organics, a company that grows organic, industrial hemp. Craft beer isn’t as hot a commodity it once was (exhibit A: the rise of White Claw), so keep an eye out for more partnerships like this as breweries look to diversify their portfolios and continue to grow.

Yet another Colorado-based company producing CBD products, including Coconut Bites snacks, Weller offers sugar-free Tangerine, Watermelon, and Black Cherry sparkling water. Despite the name of the company, none of these products contain jam. (Shoutout to the three people in to early ’80s English bands who got that reference.)

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Lee Breslouer is a writer and editor based in Colorado, and posts photos of stuff he eats and drinks @LeeBreslouer.