Flash back to 2018 when cannabis was about to be legalized across Canada. Potheads were counting down the days until they’d be able to walk into any corner store to get their fix, cannabis stocks were through the roof and middle-aged NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard) were worrying about how the fabric of society was unraveling and everything was changing. Except it didn’t.
It’s been just over a year since legalization and other than the occasional whiff of a skunky smoke cloud, not much is different. The only places to get marijuana in Toronto (legally) are the Ontario Cannabis Store’s website and the few-and-far-between licensed and heavily regulated retailers.
Weed might be legal but it’s still a relatively taboo subject. When a coworker asks about your weekend, it’s perfectly acceptable to say that you “hung out and had a few drinks” but respond by saying you “kicked it and smoked a fatty” and see how fast the eyebrows raise.
THC and CBD infused food and drink will offer a new way to get high
Currently, Torontonians can only buy weed in a handful of forms – the dried flower (as is or pre-rolled), oils and capsules. And with only five physical retailers across the city, their inventory often sells out. At the end of October the second round of cannabis legalization quietly came into effect. That means edibles have entered the market.
The THC- and CBD-infused food and beverages will offer a new range of options for getting high, mellowing out or simply easing pain. For some, legalization 2.0 might be news, but others have spent the last year quietly working away – either under the radar or in U.S. markets where edibles are legal.
One of those industry pioneers is Adrian Niman, executive chef at cannabis company Olli. But foodies will know him better as founder of the Food Dudes. Since its inception in 2007, when Niman was just 21, the company has grown to include the colourful food truck, a catering business and restaurants including Sara, Rasa, Pantry and Blondies Pizza. For Niman, applying his culinary prowess to the world of cannabis edibles was just the next logical step.
“I would say my two passions in life are cannabis and food,” says Niman. “I don’t know if ‘functioning pothead’ is the right word but I think cannabis and food go hand in hand with how I’ve been able to grow Food Dudes. And now with the legalization of cannabis, it was only a natural fit for me to enter the market.”
To start, Olli will be rolling out five teas and four edibles. Tea flavours – like sweet chamomile, mellow green and misty mint – will vary in levels of THC and CBD. The former gives the euphoric state of being high, while the latter eases pain and relaxes you without the psychoactive effects.
Bringing his ethos as a chef to the table, Niman is making edibles that centre on natural ingredients and bursts of flavour.
“What’s really unique about our edibles and our teas is that we’re working with the highest quality ingredients,” says Niman. “In our fruit chews, we’re actually using real strawberries as the main ingredient. We get our strawberries from California at peak season and we blend a beautiful purée.”
In addition to the strawberry fruit chew, Olli will offer a tea toffee, a grass-fed butter cookie, and the “chocolate hemp crunch.”
“It’s a very high-quality milk chocolate that we mix up with sea salt, fleur de sel and crispy popped brown rice to provide a really cool texture. Then we coat the bottom of it with hemp seeds. It’s salty, sweet and chocolatey, and nutty from the hemp and the brown rice. It’s delicious.”
“Food Dudes and Ace Hill work very closely together so it’s a natural fit for Ace Valley and Olli to also work together,” says Niman. “I love their radler so I came up with the idea to do a grapefruit radler fruit chew.”
And this is just the beginning. Niman has plenty more edibles up his sleeve, including four more that are slated to be released by Olli within the next 12 months.
Along with the newbies, heavy hitters in the weed industry like Tweed will also have a starting lineup of edibles and beverages. Meanwhile, cannabis corporation Hexo has partnered with Molson Coors to bring us Truss Beverage Co., a new company specializing in CBD- and THC-infused drinks. To start, six different brands will fall under the Truss umbrella.
Taking inspiration from the world of cocktails, for their House of Terpenes brand, Truss worked with mixologists and botanists to extract the natural terpenes that are found in the cannabis plant and create drinks to feature them. (Terpenes are the aromatic oils produced by plants to attract pollinators or deter predators.)
“A lot of people think they’re a new phenomenon because there’s a lot of buzz around terpenes in the world of cannabis. But terpenes have been around forever and they exist in almost all plant life,” says Melanie Smith, innovation lead at Truss. “Limonene, for example, can be found in the cannabis plant, but it’s also very prevalent in citrus plants. Myrcene is found in cannabis but it’s also found predominantly in the hop plant. When you walk through a forest and smell all of those traditional forest smells, those are terpenes coming off the plants and trees.”
As it gains popularity, the exploration of terpenes has the potential to change the beverage landscape. It wasn’t too long ago that people didn’t give much thought to the ingredients or the process behind brewing beer. But now every other drinker is an aficionado concerned with hops and fermentation, and the craft beer scene has exploded in every corner of the country. In a few years, hipsters could be sitting in dive bars discussing terpenes over an array of cannabis-infused beverages.
But for now, legalized weed and edibles are slowly impacting the way that we socialize. For many, especially the cannabis curious, it’s hard to incorporate smoking weed into a non-smoking routine. In the middle of dinner, there’s no way to discreetly get up, go outside and huddle in the cold to puff on a joint. That’s where cannabis beverages are looking to come in.
“I’m one that loves to host my friends over and throw dinner parties,” says Smith. And both of the House of Terpenes sparkling tonics (featuring either limonene or myrcene) are discreet enough to sip at the dinner table. Or, amongst the right crowd, pop one open and share with friends, while still maintaining a classy atmosphere.
Back on the culinary side of things, Munchy Brothers, Patrick Newton and Derek Mascarenhas are also aiming to shake up your dinner party. Their line of cannabis-infused garnishes and condiments can turn any dish into an edible.
“We saw an opportunity to be more creative and inspiring and allow people to enjoy their regular foods, but still get a high,” says Mascarenhas.
Slated to hit shelves in late-2020, the Munchy Brothers’ line is set to include cannabis-infused ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, salt, sugar, caramel sauce and chocolate.
“I love sauce. I love using ketchup and mayo and mustard. I want to put it on my BLTs, on my burgers, on my fries,” says Newton. “And the big thing behind all of that is my love for cooking and food. We’re both big foodies and we love just incorporating cannabis in our food.”
Before breaking into the weed world, Newton worked in a slew of Toronto’s top restaurants, including Auberge du Pommier, Jump, Canoe and La Société. Now he’s providing an opportunity for home cooks to have freedom over how they incorporate cannabis into their dishes, without having to worry about dosing it themselves.
“It’s really up to the end user but we’re going to give you the ingredients and the tools so that you can incorporate it however you want in your life,” says Newton. Putting the control into the consumer’s hands also opens up the door for those just starting their cannabis journey.
“It looks like there’s a market for people that are canna-curious but are not interested in smoking,” says Mascarenhas. “And our products fit well because (a) they are familiar, (b) they are discreet and (c) they come in single doses. So essentially, for my parents who have never taken cannabis, this is a good entry point. This is something that they would feel safe about trying.”
One of the repeatedly heard concerns from the curious newcomers to the world of cannabis is the fear of taking too much or overdosing. But companies like Olli, Truss and the Munchy Brothers are making products that are marked clearly and contain low or micro doses of cannabis. New users can enjoy a single serving while resident stoners can take multiple doses.
Micro-dosing is like having one glass of wine, not eight
“I understand the worry about getting too stoned and that’s not what this is. Micro-dosing is a completely different thing. It’s meant to calm you, relax you and make you feel really good – like when you have one glass of wine, not eight glasses of wine,” says Niman. “By micro-dosing on edibles you can function day-to-day at your job, or even run a food empire like the Food Dudes.”