Wellness trends come and go, but few make such an immediate splash as CBD. Seemingly overnight, there were chalkboard signs outside coffee shops advertising the addition of a purportedly magical substance that could curb anxiety and foster a sense of well-being along with daily doses of caffeine or even balance out the effects of alcohol when added to a cocktail.
Short for cannabidiol, CBD is one of the 113 identifiable substances in the cannabis plant, composing up to 40 percent of its extract. It can be vaped or taken sublingually in an oil- or water-based form, and when it shows up in cocktails or coffee, it’s usually from the latter. While folks like Arsalan Pourmand of Flux Coffee in Farmingdale saw their Care Bear Latte with cinnamon, chocolate and CBD flying out the door when it launched in the fall of 2018, public health experts, like Roopa Kalyanaraman Marcello, are skeptical.
“CBD has been proven effective in treating childhood epilepsy, and there are some studies in animals showing that it can relieve pain when applied to the skin. But that’s really where it ends,” says Marcello. “We don’t know much about its effect in small or large one-time doses or when it’s taken long term. There’s also no regulation regarding the production of CBD oil, which means that the amount of CBD in oils can vary significantly—as can the other contents of the bottle. When you combine those factors, it makes sense that the FDA currently prohibits CBD from being added to consumer food and drinks and the NYC health department is cracking down on its addition to foods and drinks. Both agencies are tasked with protecting consumers’ health and they’re doing just that.”
These government agency crackdowns were what led Pourmand to remove the Care Bear from his menu.
“We got called by the health department, very nicely, and they asked us to stop adding CBD to our drinks,” he says. They’re still classifying the substance as a drug. “It’s seen as like Tylenol in the eyes of the health department. You can’t crush up Tylenol and add it to a latte. We can sell CBD products that are pre-packaged, but we can’t physically add it to food.” There were no repercussions, but their program is still on hold. Flux had been profiled for the latte in Newsday, making them one of the more visible places serving it on the island, which is what likely led to their receiving a call.
Despite bowing to the department’s wishes, Pourmand believes in CBD’s health benefits. “I can’t feel it when it works,” he says. “I only feel it when it doesn’t work.” He believes it functions the same when taken sublingually to promote calm as when added to drinks and that eventually CBD will be allowed back into beverages.
At Salt & Barrel in Bay Shore, an entire cocktail menu has been built around CBD. Co-owner Ryan Flynn had begun using it in oral and topical forms to treat symptoms of Lyme disease, then thought it would be a nice addition to their selection of on-tap daiquiris and house cocktails. They launched their program in January, after she had been prescribed it by a doctor as part of her treatment regimen. Each cocktail on this menu has 25 milligrams of a coconut oil–based tincture flavored with vanilla. If someone wants it added to a different cocktail or their coffee, the cost is $5.
“I think that every person is different and everyone is going to react differently,” says Flynn. “I see CBD as only a plant-based medicine that only has a positive effect, whether that’s anti-anxiety, relaxing or promoting sleep. I think putting it in a cocktail is a nice marriage. Maybe some people think it’s fun; maybe some people think it’s working.”
Other bar owners aren’t sold, though. Doug Brickel, who runs the Cork & Kerry bars in Rockville Centre, Farmingdale and Floral Park, sees it as a trend akin to activated charcoal and hasn’t hopped on the bandwagon.
“I feel like you see bartenders jumping onto trends they see in BuzzFeed videos and the like without doing any of their own research or even being sure of safety,” he says. “In the meantime, activated charcoal is not meant to be consumed, especially by anyone on any sort of pill or medicine regimen, as it will absorb the meds, up to and including things such as birth control. I’m not saying CBD is as potentially harmful as charcoal, but it is important to assure safety before jumping on a trend for the sake of it to feed people things that we aren’t completely sure won’t harm them. We try not to be trend followers to begin with, and when the safety of the CBD-alcohol combo is being questioned, it’s a nonstarter for us.”
Discussion of CBD continues to heat up and be debated from all sides, yet it continues to pop up on more and more menus. Before shelling out additional money to have it added to a latte or cocktail, one should check in with their doctor about safe dosage and best uses. To Marcello, the public health expert, though, adding it to drinks doesn’t seem like a great use of money.
“There’s not much evidence on the effect of CBD in humans,” she says, “but, based on what we know so far, adding a few drops of CBD oil to a latte or cocktail is unlikely to do anything aside from raising the price of your drink.”