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What the Hell Happened: Spill the (CBD-Infused) Tea!

The perfect ingredient for that Instagrammable latte? — CBD, which is becoming increasingly trendy.
The perfect ingredient for that Instagrammable latte? — CBD, which is becoming increasingly trendy. By Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By Ilana A. Cohen, Contributing Writer

Imagine if your tea had magic powers. Perhaps you’re not a tea drinker and would prefer a mystical smoothie, chocolate bar, or cocktail to take off the edge after a hard day’s work. With new CBD-infused drinks and delectables popping up in cafes and restaurants around the country, that reality might be a lot closer than you think — and it’s driven, largely, by a desire for that chic CBD aesthetic.

While there are plenty of documented health benefits, today’s marketing makes CBD products seem more aesthetically pleasing than medicinally useful. This branding, particularly appealing to social media-savvy young adults, has contributed to CBD’s newfound popularity and helped make CBD products increasingly accessible for a more diverse range of consumers.

From food to beauty products, this cannabinoid has diversified in industry and form. As a pure oil, its taste can be far from ideal. Edibles like CBD-infused gummy bears and cookies, however, improve not only CBD’s taste but also its brand. Like the weed lollipop vendor stationed on your corner, companies are churning out CBD products in just about every commercial form imaginable and oftentimes, in like appearance to favored non-CBD products. Some CBD foods, like Froot Proofs Breakfast Cereal and Flaming Hot Weetos, play explicitly with themes of beloved childhood treats and guilty pleasures, while others, like CBD instant matcha and Honey Pot feed into foodie trends and healthful living fads.

So how did CBD get so trendy that it’s taking over our cereal, you wonder?

The legalization of industrial hemp in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 opened up an entirely new swath of industry. With Americans’ growing public support for marijuana legalization (at 62 percent in 2018, according to a Pew research poll) and an interest in cannabis-derived products, the potential market for such an industry seems to have already been relatively clear. Of course, marijauna and hemp differ; CBD, which as a hemp product has less than 0.3 percent THC, can’t get you high (contrary to the popular misconception). The widespread association of CBD with marijuana — what I’m dubbing the “placebo weed effect” — could, however, be a meaningful factor in its rise to fame.

Plus, CBD really can relax you, even if it’s not going to induce hallucination or trigger the munchies. This calming capacity gives CBD an intergenerational appeal; an arthritic grandma might benefit from CBD as much as her stressed-out teenage granddaughter. As per beauty products, CBD falls right in line with the “natural” brand (the idea being something like “if it comes from a plant, it’s probably good to have in an eye cream”). For believers in alternative medicine and herbal remedies, CBD products are also quite a compelling sell, as CBD often seems to be branded as a cure-all.

What really seems to make CBD in vogue, though, is how well it fits into an aesthetic-obsessed popular culture. CBD products can help build your personal brand: You can post pictures of your chic CBD chai latte at your local vegan cafe or share CBD chocolates packaged with rainbow unicorn decor. These products, designed to make you want to promote them, help curate what feels like an almost rebellious act of openly doing the formerly taboo while also feeding into the mainstream “good vibes only” mentality.

Those who use CBD to relieve pain or to treat physical and mental health conditions, from epilepsy and arthritis to anxiety and depression, might find the trendiness of CBD products tokenizing or even misleading, playing only to specific demographics. Yet even as CBD branding can emphasize a more superficial and mainstream use, raising awareness of the accessibility of CBD products can have widespread effects. The more people hear about CBD, the more those could benefit from its use may be likely to try it out. And the more common — trendy, even — that CBD products become, the less of a stigma there may be around using them. It seems that promoting CBD in any way can positively impact more people than follow our Instagram accounts, but we should remain cognizant that CBD use can have very different implications for different people.

For some, trying CBD products proves transformative while for others, it can be a fairly meaningless but harmless experience. Either way, the potentially great benefits of CBD use make some experimentation seem worthwhile! Already, restaurants around Boston are providing their own hot takes on CBD (at Bodega Canal, you can enjoy your tortilla chips with CBD-infused guac). CBD products are also available in hemp stores and online, although you should always verify the legitimacy of CBD brands prior to purchase. (Online resources can make this very doable).

There’s no way to know whether the CBD trend will stick. But, for now, the CBD tea has been spilled and it's up to consumers, whatever their motivations, to decide if the next cup is right for them.

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