OG Kush. Strawberry Lemonade. Sour Diesel.
I picked up the tiny glass containers of a brand called Krypted and peered at the white crystalline chunks inside. I read each label aloud slowly, as if practicing a foreign language.
“She’s not even reacting to Sour Diesel,” someone said.
“What’s so special about it?” I asked.
Apparently, Sour Diesel is one fine strain of cannabis. For this pot neophyte, that’s like talking Martelli versus Barilla versus De Cecco with someone who’s about to take their first ever bite of pasta.
Sour Diesel is now a part of my vocabulary, because CBD, also called cannabidiol, quickly is becoming part of the everyday lexicon.
CBD is derived from hemp, a cousin of the marijuana plant. Touted and marketed for therapeutic benefits to treat ailments that range from anxiety to inflammation, CBD-infused products have flooded the food and beverage sector.
In Atlanta, you can find CBD-infused kombucha from Golda on tap at Cultured South. The folks behind Second Self Beer Co. just launched sparkling water line Cirrus, offering a “pure” version and one flavored with papaya and lychee, both containing 10 milligrams of CBD hemp extract. There are CBD-infused snacks, and even condiments, like local Fairwood Thicket’s Phenomenal Cosmic Strawberry Jam, which blends its strawberry-lavender jam with CBD isolates and organic hemp flowers. You can order a CBD-infused cocktail at Big Sky Buckhead, or get a CBD and caffeine double dose when you order a latte at Rev Coffee in Smyrna.
In Georgia, only medical marijuana is legal for registered patients. CBD, however, has only trace amounts of THC, the compound that gives marijuana users their high. CBD can have no more than 0.3% THC, while medical marijuana oil may contain up to 5%.
If you look closely at those Krypted brand vials, you’ll notice that Sour Diesel has a green check mark, denoting it is free of THC. OG Kush is not. Folks are doctoring foods with both.
As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s food and dining editor, I focus on preparation methods, ingredients and flavor. When it comes to CBD, I wanted to understand how it is being incorporated into food, whether the end result tastes good, and whether CBD enhances the eating experience.
To find out, I asked Scotley Innis, a chef and cannabis advocate, to prepare a few dishes. Innis is the former executive chef at 5Church. He left that position a few months ago to start his own venture, Chef Scotley Innis Culinary Services. In late March, Innis cooked a five-course CBD dinner in Atlanta as part of his Scotch Yard pop-up series that spotlights Jamaican cuisine. (Another multi-course CBD dinner is in the works for June. Look for details at chefscottleyinnis.com.) He re-created for me two of the dishes he plated for the March event: a salad and some prawns.
Every component of the salad, he said, includes ingredients that combat the effects of cancer: dragonfruit, beets, blood orange segments and dandelion greens tossed in a sorrel Strawnana vinaigrette, the bowl adorned with dots of a prickly pear coulis.
I honed in on the vinaigrette, since that’s where the CBD enters into this mélange. For the dressing, Innis boiled sorrel, aka hibiscus, and extracted the essence, to which he added red wine vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, thyme, ginger, sugar, strawberry banana terpene (an oil made from the Strawnana cannabis strain that provides aromatics and flavor), and the strawberry-lemonade isolate from among those Krypted vials. Sometimes, isolates need heat to be activated, he explained. In this instance, blitzing it in a blender was enough to warm it up.
The vinaigrette was strawberry-forward in flavor. It reminded me of a strawberry-poppy seed dressing I make at home. The salad, likewise, didn’t differ from the norm. It was appealing to the eye and taste buds. The only differentiator: CBD.
Next up: hot pepper shrimp. For Innis, this recipe celebrates his Jamaican heritage and reminds him of his childhood in New York, where he regularly stopped at a mom-and-pop Jamaican store after school to buy hot pepper shrimp, and some carrot juice with which to down it. The main elements of the dish were prawns cooked in a spicy Scotch bonnet butter sauce and served with crispy-fried avocado.
In this instance, the CBD elements were the Sour Diesel isolate incorporated into the butter — the isolate needs to attach to a fat to activate it, Innis said — and some OG Kush, ground and blended into a salt mix, then sprinkled over the seafood as it cooked. The dish came out salty. Otherwise, my taste buds didn’t detect anything unusual.
If the CBD is masked in the food, why even do it? I asked.
“You are looking for an effect on your body,” Innis said.
When Innis, 36, was in his late teens, he suffered a spinal injury in a car accident. He manages the pain of a bulging disk with CBD, rather than pain medication. “I’m getting the same kind of relief from cannabis,” he said.
The healing effects he has felt from CBD are why he has focused on using it in food — and why he wants to use CBD dinners as a forum for education, and to remove the stigma attached to cannabis. “This is the time for Georgians to know more about CBD,” he said.
At Innis’ March dinner, Atlanta-based family medicine and pain management practitioner Dr. Rasean Hodge was present to answer questions that diners had about each dish, the quantity of CBD present in each plate, and the effects they might feel on their bodies.
I expressed my concerns to Innis. Reactions can vary, depending on a person’s body mass, previous exposure to CBD, and even whether they are eating on a full or empty stomach, he said. (As it turned out, I didn’t feel any effect.)
Still, there’s an added level of trust that a CBD meal requires. Every time I eat at a restaurant, I place my safety in the hands of the cooks preparing the food. Incorporating CBD into food is a science. It requires math. Freestyling a batch of CBD-infused coconut cake with caramel sauce could be a recipe for disaster.
Innis agreed. He’s only been cooking seriously with CBD for a little over a year. “I’m still learning,” he said. He continues to gain insight from other people in the cannabis scene, all the while following the law, he emphasized.
I’m not quite ready for that degree of uncertainty.
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