When I attended the Wine and Weed Symposium on August 3 in Santa Rosa, California, I was excited to witness the forefront of marijuana technology. But what stood out the most among the milieu of labeling companies, tech concepts, and agricultural goods was one booth that appeared to be pouring samples of Champagne. Upon closer inspection, it wasn't booze; the fancy, foil-topped bottles weren't of wine, but of of Entourage—a weed-flavored sparkling water.
Developed by San Francisco Bay-area medical cannabis company The Legion of Bloom, Entourage is an effervescent water beverage infused with marijuana terpenes. According to the company's co-founder and marketing director, it was previously branded as a generic-sounding "terp Champagne" before debuting at the symposium under its more ambiguous-sounding moniker.
Although its packaging most closely resembles a sophisticated bottle of effervescent wine, the bubbly inside is essentially just fizzy water that smells and tastes like skunky weed. The new drink came about as Meadows and the rest of the company were experimenting with the idea of creating beverages that take advantage of the different effects with terpenes, or essential oils, found in marijuana plants.
Of course, there's a catch. Unlike beverages containing tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana), Entourage wasn't meant to get you high. Instead, as Meadows explains, the beverage is meant to give drinkers the "direct experience" of fresh marijuana without getting them blazed.
But that doesn't mean they won't have any effect at all. Terpenes (which are found in many plants) may hold several functions, including acting as a repellent to insects and pathogens. Some are extracted for use in fragrances, such as for pine or citrus smells. Many of the same terpenes used for those aroma compounds are found in marijuana, and they're the components of the plants that give strains their distinct characteristics, according to Meadows.
While they might not get you "stoned," per se, terpenes would still interact with an individual's endocannabinoid system, a system of cellular receptors inside a mammal's brain which is involved in the processes of mood, appetite, and pain sensation. The effects of drinking a terpene beverage are very much a subjective experience, Meadows added, comparing them to aromatherapy candles that use specific terpene profiles to calm and soothe. But he says that drinks such as these could help to enhance the effects of using marijuana in general.
"It's the terpenes in particular that affect how the cannabinoids react in your body," Meadows says. "You can consume high cannabinoid extractions and you'll still get effects, but they're finding it's the terpenes that add different effects." There are many ways to extract terpenes from marijuana, and The Legion of Bloom has developed an unpatented, proprietary method that Meadows says is a closely guarded secret.
On a boozier front, another new beverage made with cannabis terpenes is OG HighPA, the "world's first terpene-infused beer," a "4.20 percent" alcohol-by-volume session brew made by Thorn Street Brewery in San Diego, which debuted last summer. The beer contains pinene and myrcene—a terpene shared by both hops and indica strains of marijuana that give the plants their "dankness" characteristics and has sedating effects, according to Meadows.
But don't expect to find products such as Entourage or OG HighPA outside of California, or even in a supermarket within state lines, anytime soon. The beer's limited run was shut down by the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), according to Thomas Kiely, a distribution consultant for the brewery.
"There was no THC or CBD, and the terpenes were only used for flavor and aroma," Kiely told me. "It was a total bummer." The TTB wasn't interested in the details, and prohibited the beer anyway.
"The use of hemp terpenes in an alcoholic beverage would require pre-market approval from the Food and Drug Administration before we could approve a formula," TTB spokesperson Thomas Hogue told MUNCHIES, referring all other questions to the Food and Drug Administration. (MUNCHIES reached out to the FDA for more information on its current policies regarding on marijuana terpene-infused products, but has not yet received a response.)
"It's the most boutique water on the planet."
Entourage's debut was more of a proof-of-concept than a major launch, Meadows says, although he expects to be entering the product into limited production for small orders, such as 100 bottles of a specific strain.
Are terpene beverages a gimmick? It all depends on who you ask, although Meadows believes there is a niche market for them. For now, Meadows plans on marketing Entourage for "influencer-style" events, private parties, and for possible use as a cocktail mixer. One bottle, he says, sells for about $150, although larger quantities would fetch a discount.
And at a time when sparkling water sales are only continuing to skyrocket—with the category reaching a market value of $1.8 billion this year—this could be the perfect time to introduce the world to terpene seltzer.
"It's the most boutique water on the planet," Meadows says.