Daniel López drinks the hemp CBD beverage Vybes to help him during his shift as a coffee manager in downtown Orlando.
“It gives me more focus to get through it,” the 27-year-old said. “If I didn’t sleep well the night before, I’d rather drink (Vybes) than an energy drink. When you drink an energy drink, you just go high and then you crash.”
The coffee shop and bar where Lopez works, Craft & Common, carries the beverage. It is one of more than 15 spots in Central Florida where Vybes is now distributed by Orlando-based Sunshine State Distributing.
Companies see CBD beverages as a growth opportunity following the 2018 Farm Bill’s elimination of hemp from marijuana’s definition in the Controlled Substances Act as well as a new Florida law that made hemp legal in the state. It is defined as having a 0.3% or less concentration of the tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the euphoria-inducing compound in marijuana.
Still, even a small amount of THC could potentially trigger a positive drug test conducted by an employer or law enforcement. The Food and Drug Administration is looking at regulations for CBD as well as how it affects human health.
“It’s a huge growth market around the country, and we felt that we are small enough and agile enough to find those opportunities,” said Chris Larue, president of Sunshine State Distributing. “We think the CBD beverage category could be as big as the energy drink category.”
His company is not only distributing the Los Angeles-based Vybes, and offers flavors such as blueberry mint and peach ginger, but has also recently agreed to distribute Central Florida-based Elev8’s hemp CBD-infused lemon iced tea and hemp CBD-infused iced coffee. Both companies state their products are THC free.
In addition to the ready-to-drink beverages, Elev8, which has warehouse space in a Longwood industrial park and an office in Orlando, also makes packaged hemp coffee and tea. Elev8 CEO Ryan Medico said the company started because he loved coffee and saw an opportunity.
“It’s a huge market,” he said. “It’s up and coming.”
Vybes founder Jonathan Eppers said he never anticipated CBD would explode in the way it has.
“I think we live in a time when people are feeling more and more anxious and stressed,” he said.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved one cannabis-derived drug, Epidiolex, that requires a prescription and is used to treat seizures. It has also approved three other “cannabis-related” drugs that require prescriptions.
The FDA states on its website there may be some products that add CBD to food or label CBD as a health supplement even though it is illegal under federal law to market CBD that way. Vybes and Elev8 don’t make health claims about their products.
The administration is evaluating regulations, including if legislation is needed, for cannabis-derived products like CBD meant for non-medicinal uses.
“The information we have underscores the need for further study and high quality, scientific information about the safety and potential uses of CBD,” the FDA states on its website.
Orlando Health Dr. Benjamin Kaplan, a state-approved prescriber of medical marijuana who is not actively prescribing, stresses that CBD users should be cautious.
“CBD is an active ingredient that can affect your body,” he said. “I would talk to your doctor before taking these sorts of chemicals.”
Asked if small amounts of THC in CBD products would generally show up on a drug test for marijuana, Kaplan said it would depend on the sensitivity of the test as well as a person’s metabolism and how much that person had consumed. THC can eventually add up in a person’s system, he said.
Kaplan said the amount of THC in a product would depend on the harvesting and production process. He pointed out there are no FDA regulations about how companies are making their drinks.
Both Elev8 and Vybes state their beverages contain no THC. Eppers and Medico both said their products use CBD that is extracted and isolated from the rest of the plant.
“CBD is CBD,” Medico said. “THC is a different compound from the plant. The plant produces both.”
Both companies also use lab testing, with Vybes posting results on its website. Elev8 is adding QR codes to its bottles and cans that will lead to lab results.
“We do this to increase our transparency with our customers as well as to comply with the regulatory standards in different states,” Medico said.
He said with the ready-to-drink market being so new, the industry is under scrutiny and his business wanted to play it safe by using what the industry calls an “isolate.”
All of this underscores a point made by Sunshine State Distributing’s Larue: “We’re still on the education curve in Florida,” he said.