Why the biggest trend in health drinks is hemp-based everything

Marika Berney, marketing manager for The Cannabis Company with a martini made with the Myrcene Hemp Gin at The Carlton ...
Marika Berney, marketing manager for The Cannabis Company with a martini made with the Myrcene Hemp Gin at The Carlton Wine Room, Melbourne. Photo: Christopher Hopkins

Hold the kefir and coconut water, put down the turmeric latte. The biggest trend in health drinks is hemp-based everything.

Health food stores and many supermarkets are now spruiking beverages such as hemp kombucha, hemp milk, hemp juice and hemp coffee. Meanwhile, bottle shops and distillers are dipping their toes into hemp-enhanced gin, vodka, rum and beer.

"Hemp is basically everywhere at the moment," says Russell Lipton, who launched the Beyond Coconut Water brand in 2010. Last week, independent retailers began stocking Lipton's latest product line, Beyond Hemp – citrus and berry flavoured cans of hemp-infused sparkling water. 

The Cannabis Company's medal winning Myrcene Hemp Gin.
The Cannabis Company's medal winning Myrcene Hemp Gin. Photo: CHRISTOPHER HOPKINS

"It's a functional beverage, created to promote calmness, reduce health risks and boost brain function," says the serial entrepreneur. "I'm always looking to see what's trending and what's the next big thing. This is it."

According to Jolene Ng, senior food and drink analyst for market research firm Mintel, "a year of stress and anxiety due to the pandemic has skyrocketed the need for products and services that help consumers take better care of their mental and emotional health".

"This is creating a wave of demand for services and solutions addressing the trauma of loss, anxiety and depression."  

Beyond Hemp sparkling water, launched by entrepreneur Russell Lipton in 2021.
Beyond Hemp sparkling water, launched by entrepreneur Russell Lipton in 2021. Photo: Supplied

It became legal for hemp food products to be sold in Australia in 2017. While sales of hemp muesli, granola and seeds are strong, Lipton believes the convenience of enjoying hemp's possible therapeutic effects in drink form means the beverage market has the most growth potential.

Business consulting firm Grand View Research predicts the global cannabis-based beverage market will be worth $US2.8 billion ($3.6 billion) by 2025, up from $US900 million in 2018.

Hemp is a species of cannabis, but unlike marijuana it contains negligible levels of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). "You're not going to drink a can and stroll down the street feeling stoned," says Lipton.

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The plant is a good source of protein and particularly high in omega-3 and omega-6, making it a great source of healthy fat for people who don't eat fish or eggs. Some evidence suggests omega-3 promotes brain health, while magnesium found in hemp may help to calm anxiety.

"We're definitely seeing more nootropic-style products promoting brain health, energy, and mental clarity in Australian stores," says Marika Berney, marketing manager for The Cannabis Company which uses hemp to make protein powders, flours and sleep tinctures.

The Cannabis Company's Myrcene Hemp Gin is also available to order through Dan Murphy's after winning a silver medal at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2019.

Distilled from Tasmanian-grown hemp and wheat in Healesville, Victoria, the small batch gin contains added terpenes (naturally occurring compounds found in the seed and leaves of many cannabis species) to enhance its taste profile and aromatics of orris root, sage and lavender.

"Traditional gin botanicals are elevated to a different level by the terpenes, which we find can bring out flavours that may otherwise remain dormant," says Alexandra Poznyak, managing director of Treeline Beverages within The Cannabis Company. 

"We are on a mission to promote the natural healing power of the cannabis plant. If it wasn't alcohol, we could make some claims about the gin's anti-inflammatory properties." (Under Australia's Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code, communications and advertising for an alcoholic beverage must not suggest the drink offers any therapeutic benefits.)

In two years, Poznyak says consumers can also expect a deluge of products made with cannabidiol (CBD) oil, freely available in the US and with a prescription in Australia, to treat chronic pain, anxiety and depression. 

"CBD is another component found in hemp. In December the TGA [Therapeutic Goods Administration] announced it was downgrading CBD to a pharmacist-only medicine, meaning Australians can technically now buy it over the counter at chemists.

"However, it's most likely that CBD won't actually be freely available until 2023 as all hemp companies – including ours – now have to submit their cannabidiol products to the TGA for approval, which is a lengthy process. The CBD market is going to explode though, so definitely watch this space."