Is CBD the New Kombucha?

Jar of kombucha

From the make-at-home variety to the plentiful assortment of flavors available from beverage industry giants, kombucha’s popularity has undoubtedly been on the rise. But recently the buzz has shifted to talk about a certain three letters: CBD. With its shared presence within the holistic health arena and a matching market trend, you may be asking — is CBD the new kombucha?

Kombucha quickly became a favorite in the natural beverage space starting in 2017, and became the fastest-growing beverage category in 2018. With a 37.4% surge in fermented beverages in 2017 totaling $556+ million in U.S. retail sales, kombucha has been experiencing exponential growth within the U.S. Kombucha has capitalized on the transformation of American and global consumer habits, where the preference has changed from a sugary pick-me-up to drinks packed full of nutrients. The consumer objective has shifted from purely quenching a thirst to caring for one’s body and overall health, especially in our busy society where consumers are continually on the go and don’t always have time to prioritize health and wellness.

So where does CBD come in?

Despite having faced major hurdles up until the legalization of hemp in 2018, the CBD market is now poised to take off. The industry hit $367 million in sales in 2018 and is projected to hit $2 billion by the time 2022 rolls around. Though cannabis companies are still begging for additional regulation from the FDA and some states are still cracking down on CBD, it seems CBD is here to stay — and the options for consumption are expanding.

While traditional methods of CBD delivery have included tinctures and vape oils, CBD beverages have begun to make a splash in the mainstream, offering a more casual and social CBD option. You don’t typically picture getting together with your friends to share a tincture (or maybe you do, we don’t judge). But CBD beverages lend a social aspect to CBD that has long been reserved for gatherings centered around alcohol, coffee and tea, or  — more recently — kombucha. CBD beverages also offer a more palatable option for those who aren’t enamored with the potent, hempy taste of some CBD products, as well as a convenient, discrete method of ingestion.

While the caffeine kick of coffee certainly isn’t going anywhere, consumer trends have pronouncedly switched to products that are intended to promote general wellness. Think cold-pressed juices and coconut water, and now kombucha and CBD. As the public becomes more educated on how casually consumed items like food and drink can impact how they feel on a daily basis, products that help people find and restore balance are more of a priority than simply consuming for sustenance. And, while kombucha and CBD impact distinctly different bodily systems, both show evidence of promoting equilibrium in the body.

So, is CBD the new kombucha? Let’s look at how they impact our bodies, their history, and what the current market has to say.

Kombucha and gut health

Just a few years ago, kombucha seemed novel (what the heck is a SCOBY?) but nowadays, it’s hard to find a supermarket or a gas station without a shelf dedicated to kombucha. So what changed?

A primary catalyst has been the focus on gut health in the wellness sphere. Research has shown that the gut microbiome, an ecosystem running throughout your entire digestive system, plays an important role in regulating weight, moods, and sleep, as well as fighting infection and maintaining a healthy immune system. A balanced gut helps keep the body in homeostasis and greatly contributes to overall health and well-being. The human gut has even been called the “second brain,” responsible for producing an estimated 90% of the body’s serotonin. Gut health is complex and unique to each person. Everyone has a unique make-up of microbes based on the genes, age, gender, diet, hygiene, and even climate and occupation of an individual.

Kombucha has been the natural answer to the call for gut health. While there are other players in the probiotic field like kefir and kimchi, kombucha has become a household name in ways that other products haven’t. Yogurt has long been recognized as a probiotic food but the increased focus on lactose-intolerance and other sensitivities has caused it to fall out of fashion in many health-conscious households. Kefir consumption is also limited due to the lactose, and as for kimchi... well, fermented cabbage isn’t for everyone.

Kombucha, on the other hand, continues to dominate. While North America is one of the top markets for “functional beverages,” even the European kombucha market is projected to increase from around $180 million in revenue in 2016 to $1.37 billion by 2025. Part of this is tied to the idea of elevated convenience — being able to get premium products, particularly those that foster well-being, in a convenient, on-the-go format. And what’s more convenient than sipping your way to good health?

CBD and the endocannabinoid system

Like gut health, the endocannabinoid system is another hot topic in the wellness arena. As the endocannabinoid system is studied more closely and intently, CBD has been the next major player on the rise. Similar to the gut microbiome, everyone’s individual endocannabinoid system is different, so cannabinoids like CBD impact each person in a different way.

The endocannabinoid system is only recently becoming a primary focus in scientific studies due to the tumultuous past of the cannabis plant — namely, its classification as a Schedule 1 substance, combined with limited understanding of how it interacts with our bodies. That’s all changing. The endocannabinoid system was discovered less than 30 years ago; it was as recent as 1988 that scientists first became aware of cannabinoid receptors in the brain. We now know that all mammals and some other species are equipped with an endocannabinoid system. This means that our bodies are naturally wired to process and make efficient use of cannabinoids, to better support the inner workings of our bodies.

Much like the gut microbiome, the endocannabinoid system is said to have a potential impact on several areas of homeostasis in the body.

Ancient origins and modern trends

As a response to an increased focus on health and wellness and the prevalence of chronic diseases, the global market is seeing a return to ancient, intuitive products and practices. Plant properties are again being incorporated into daily or as-needed health regimens. Kombucha and CBD are two health trends making the biggest splash in the current market.

Both kombucha and cannabis have been used in societies far longer than their recent popularity surge might indicate. Kombucha’s origins date back between 2,500 and over 9,000 years ago, depending on who you ask. While the discovery of the endocannabinoid system is fairly recent, cannabis has been utilized as far back as 8,000 BCE, when evidence shows that hemp seeds and oil were used in food in China. The hemp plant was widely grown and used in the U.S. until the rise of cannabis prohibition laws in the 1900s.

Many have become interested in returning to plant-based alternatives and intuitive practices from our ancestors to complement the “spot treatment” practice of Western medicine, which tends to treat specific symptoms as opposed to the whole person, or the true root cause of a health ailment.

This is where kombucha, CBD, and other plant-based products come in. They have the potential to balance the entire internal ecosystem, not just address one specific problem.

Until recently, CBD has suffered from prohibitive laws and restrictive implications  whereas kombucha has not had to fight these same regulations. However, the landscape has shifted with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which made hemp — the plant CBD is typically derived from — federally legal. Not surprisingly, industry giants are taking notice.

The CBD beverage pivot

Following the upwards spike of health-forward beverage trends, soda sales hit a 30-year low in 2018. As refreshing and enjoyable alternatives, both kombucha and CBD beverages have come front and center in the drinkable world.

Kombucha is a naturally-carbonated drink, making it a frontrunner in the replacement of soda. Recently, however, CBD has been working itself into carbonated waters and more - not just kombucha. If you look at the expos like the NoCo Hemp Expo and Natural Product Expo West, companies are coming up with countless offerings in the CBD beverage realms. From sparkling waters and cold-brew coffee to non-alcoholic wine and CBD-kombucha hybrids, nearly everyone is infusing their drinkables with CBD.

One notable aspect of the CBD beverage boom is the presence of non-cannabis companies who are joining the market. From major coffee retailers like Second Cup to Pepsi Independent Distributors like Oregon-based Xanthic Beverages, nearly everyone is poising themselves to cash in on the project CBD beverage boom. And with good reason: cannabis beverage sales hit $35.6 million in 2017 across California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington alone.

So, is CBD the new kombucha? We’ll have to wait and watch the market — but all projections point to yes.