A Short History of the CBD Beverage Industry

Small brown vials laying on white surface beside grains and powders
Updated on July 25th 2023

In all likelihood, ancient civilizations going back as far as those of ancient Mesopotamia, Turkey, Egypt, Greece, China, and Central and South America, knew of or at least suspected the medicinal value of certain plants like cannabis. For them, it wasn’t only used to treat ailments and, in the case of hemp, make rope or other items, but to alter the state of one’s consciousness for the purpose of ceremonial rituals. There’s considerable debate as to how cannabis was consumed, though smoking is the most probable scenario. Archeological evidence is lacking, but it’s not much of a stretch to think it was somehow ingested in food and CBD beverages in limited quantities.

Were our ancient ancestors getting high on some form of weed? There's evidence to suggest that's what was going on thousands of years ago. Were they using it for medicinal reasons? Probably. If those answers sound awfully familiar to what's happening in the 21st century, you’re right on the money.

According to David Collard, senior archaeologist at Jacobs, an engineering firm in Melbourne, Australia, there's evidence of ritual opium use on Cyprus going back more than 3000 years. He’s certain that further study will convince skeptics that cannabis and other drugs had a place in the ancient world.

Today, of course, cannabis for recreational and medical purposes is legal in 36 of the United States but against the law at the federal level. Much of the earth-shattering change in perceptions of cannabis use has happened in the last 10 years or so. In fact, beginning in the 1940s, researchers at the University of Illinois had no idea how it affected people’s bodies or minds.


There wasn’t anything favorable to cannabis-related research, products, or discussions. In fact, in 1937 that all forms of cannabis, including hemp, were declared illegal under the Marihuana Tax Act.

Prior to that law, all cannabis derivatives were gradually but steadily being criminalized. No matter the THC content, lawmakers determined that all species within Cannabaceae were no longer advantageous, but rather, were harmful to the general public. Perhaps a bit of paranoia, indeed.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s that cannabis returned to fashion, however, under the medical use banner. Finally, 2012 heralded a landmark moment where cannabis was recreationally legal in Washington and Colorado. Thirty-four other states have followed since then.


The sudden popularity of cannabidiol has given rise to a plethora of CBD beverages and other infused products, which can be found from specialty stores to local grocery chains. There are CBD beverages and CBD drinks, foodstuffs like brownies, gummy bears, and other foodstuffs like pizza sauce, but the biggest incursion is within the beverage industry itself.

According to the Visual Capitalist, the cannabis-infused beverage industry alone is expected to be valued at more than $1 billion in 2022 and continue its rocket-like trajectory for the foreseeable future. Ryan Crane, founder and CEO of the CBD beverage brand Tempo, says “Beverages are a great way to get a dose of this healthy ingredient. Health-wise, beverages are a better fit than chocolate or a cookie. And you don’t have to worry about smoking it or measuring it as a function of time as you would when taking it through a dropper.”

In the past five or six years, global-spanning food and beverage companies have begun beating the cannabis drum. Mega-corporations like Molson Coors, the Alkaline Water Company, New Age Beverages, Phivida Holdings, Cannara Biotech are all jumping into the Global Ready to Drink (RTD) tea market and others, most notably beer and alcoholic beverages. Many others are diving into the craft CBD-infused, non-alcoholic seltzer market to attract clientele perhaps "put off" by how other cannabis-infused foods and CBD drinks are marketed – and because a regulatory infrastructure already exists in many of the 36 states where cannabis is legal. These companies are wisely promoting the "better for you" mindset, rather than hawking cannabis-based products as purely "mind-altering."


If all of this sounds like marketing that has been ratcheted up to a whole other level, that's because it has. Think back to what Steve Jobs did with the public perception of Apple and its products, convincing billions of consumers that not only are iPhones better than competing products, but that owning one might even make you a better person. Or think of the sudden change in marketing tactics by automotive manufacturers, that cars are the past and no one needs to drive one – instead, it's all about trucks and SUVs and, now, hybrid or electric powertrains. All for the good of the planet no less.

Why single out the cannabis and CBD beverages niche? Because, according to some market analysts, the industry is primed for explosive growth. According to Market Watch, the CBD beverages sector was worth $2 million in 2018. Remember the prediction from the Visual Capitalist? The market is expected to reach $1.4 billion in 2023. This means that the infantile CBD drinks industry isn't expected to fizzle out anytime soon.