It’s stirred into lattes, shaken into cocktails, and infused into gummy candies, so it was only a matter of time before it was added to seltzer, the soft drink in the midst of a trendy resurgence. It’s the cannabis compound known as CBD, which has been increasingly used as a food additive, despite not having FDA approval.
Benjamin Witte is the founder of New York-based Recess (takearecess.com), a CBD seltzer company that was the subject of this passed-around Times article about how, for several very good reasons, the soft drink is tailor-made for a certain type of millennial. Witte says he’s managed to can a feeling — a “cool, calm connectedness” — that he hopes will be an “antidote to modern times.” That antidote is hemp-extract infused sparkling water, and it comes in an Instagram-worthy can.
Crucially, Witte believes that his CBD product — he has competition — can stand apart in the CBD trend.
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of the 113 compounds in cannabis. Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol: the psychoactive component in weed that actually gets you high), CBD isn’t psychoactive because the molecule is structured slightly differently.
Unlike THC, CBD has a reputation for inducing a calming effect. It’s shown promise as a treatment for generalized anxiety, epilepsy, and psychosis. It is even being embraced by pro-athletes who claim it relieves muscle pain.
Admittedly, I had never heard of Recess before I drank one can of CBD seltzer a day for seven days in a row. By most accounts, I probably should have. Recess, which launched only in October 2018, has already garnered a glowing review from Bon Appetit in addition to that well-received Times write-up describing it as the calming drink for a “high anxiety doom Generation.” “We canned a feeling,” Recess’ advertising copy reads. “Not tired, not wired. The you you are on your best days.”
As a science journalist, I had some healthy skepticism about the idea that it’s possible to “can a feeling.” But as someone who has been lovingly told that I have no chill, I was also intrigued by Recess’ approach to CBD. When I spoke to Witte, he told me that he too was “naturally a sort of wired, hyper anxious, ADD-type person” who found that CBD made him more focused and productive.
Witte drinks five or six cans of Recess a day, but adds that he sees the seltzer as a productivity aid you can drink at literally any hour of the day, anytime you need it. To that end, when I resolved to drink Recess for a week, I tried to integrate it seamlessly into every possible situation I could think of. I drank it at work. I drank it while stuck on a broken-down bus at a rest stop on Long Island. I drank it at a dinner party with my extended family and with two shots of vodka on a Friday night. But as I experimented with Recess for seven days, I also tried to figure out exactly how it works.
How Does Recess Work?
Each can of recess contains 10 milligrams of a full-spectrum hemp extract, which contains far more cannabis plant extracts than just CBD alone, says pharmacologist Robert Laprarie, Ph.D., a member of Cannabinoid Research Initiative of Saskatchewan.
“It’s difficult to know exactly what is in the extracts because Cannabis plant species — including hemp — have more than 120 biologically active cannabinoids and terpenes in them. The relative amounts of each of these compounds changes from plant variety to variety, and they are very structurally similar to each other,” he tells Inverse.
It’s hard to know exactly how much CBD is in each can of Recess because it’s only one of many different plant components that make up the extract. Though it’s still the most abundant one in a full-spectrum hemp extract.
When I asked Witte about his decision to include a full-spectrum hemp extract, he says that the full-spectrum oil actually enhances the experience of using a marijuana extract. He calls this “the entourage effect” of all the different cannabinoids working at once:
“Full spectrum hemp oil extract is actually more effective” Witte said. “It’s kind of a more rich, full-body effect.”
In addition to that entourage effect from the variety of cannabinoids, Witte adds that he tinkered with a series of adaptogens, or herbs that appear to have some mood-inducing effects, including L-theanine (a calming agent found in black tea), Schisandra (intended to increase energy), and ginseng (intended to promote focus).
In short, drinking Recess for a week isn’t supposed to be like drinking a CBD latte or taking an extract — it’s not supposed to merely chill you out. The company really does appear to be going after that “not tired, not wired” feeling and believe that their carbonated full-spectrum hemp extract and adaptogen combo can do just that.
After drinking it for a week, I think I know what they mean.
Recess at Work
I drank Recess at the office for three days: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, all between the hours of 1 and 4 p.m. Though I hadn’t spoken to Witte at the time, this turned out to be the ideal use case for Recess.
“I think it was really designed specifically for between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. That’s kind of the core use case,” Witte later told me.” “I personally find it most enjoyable during the day at work.”
At 3 p.m. on that Tuesday, I cracked my first can of Recess’ pink pom hibiscus flavor. The liquid itself is a bright red and has a strong, sweet flavor (4-6 grams of sugar per can, depending on the flavor). It’s more like a Spindrift than a La Croix. Recess has a memorable, bitter aftertaste that can probably be chalked up to the small amounts of the adaptogens, which settle to the bottom if you leave the can for too long.
I finished the can while going back and forth over email with a scientist in Spain, all the while in a low state of anxiety that she wouldn’t get back to me for the story. Even the first day, I felt a difference in anxiety levels while drinking Recess. My first note, written four minutes after I started sipping on the can, read:
“Am feeling calmer about the researcher.”
On Wednesday, when I tried Recess’ peach ginger flavor, which tastes a bit like body wash, my notes read:
“Focused, but not necessarily productive.”
By Thursday, when I tried the purple tinted chai blackberry flavor, I was definitely beginning to sense a pattern. Each day I could feel myself slipping into a state of profoundly subtle calm. I was chill. What was more noticeable was what I didn’t feel. When I searched for the internal sense of adrenaline or anxiety to propel myself into productivity, it just wasn’t there. Instead, there was a calmness, but not one that I personally use to get things done.
For many people, the reviewer at Bon Appetit included, this calmness was a helpful positive that greatly enhanced their productivity during the day. Personally, I missed that edge. I missed being not chill.
Recess Outside of Work
Although work was Witte’s preferred use case for Recess, by Friday, I was absolutely sure that it wasn’t mine. But if it wasn’t a good way to turn focus on (at least for me), it might be a good way to turn focus off. There, I found I was more receptive to the calm sensation that I was beginning to expect each time I cracked a can.
Around 6:30 p.m. on Friday, I dumped two shots of vodka into the chai blackberry and drank it in ten minutes at the office. From a taste standpoint, it was good.
Had I taken notes after that shot, they would’ve read:
The actual evidence that describes the combined effects of CBD and alcohol is inconclusive at best, though James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, did tell Vice that mixing CBD and alcohol can make some people feel intensely “very chill, very lighthearted, mellow,” and others “very sedated.” I fell into the former category — the lack of edge that I missed while writing articles was a canyon when I was two shots deep. Witte adds that others have also noted they like using Recess as a mixer — which is partially why they’re developing a line called Recess Bitters, specifically for this purpose, and a Recess cocktail recipe book.
As such, Recess is available at nightclubs in New York. Its pastel color could be seen on a recent Saturday night, lined up in a refrigerator between cans of Modelo Especial and Red Bull at Elsewhere, a warehouse-style music venue in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Applying the “Entourage Effect”
But even without the added benefit of alcohol, by Saturday, I was beginning to learn exactly when to apply Recess’ “entourage effect” to get the most out of the collected feeling I had begun to expect. When my bus broke down en route to my parents house on Long Island, I happily sipped a peach ginger Recess in the window seat as we waited for the next bus to arrive. Once I made it out to Long Island, I drank the pom hibiscus flavor during dinner, much to the amusement of my extended family.
In each case, I felt the same physiological effects — that incredibly subtle lack of nervous anxiety or “edge.” In that case, the sensation was welcome, even relaxing, because I had nothing pressing to do.
An Antidote to Modern Times?
Recess does indeed make good on the promise that it has “canned a feeling.” But it’s only an antidote to modern times if your anxiety is the poison. I’ve long felt that my anxiety has stood in the way of productivity.
I asked Witte if he “missed his anxiety” while drinking Recess, and he explained that he still feels it — a drink can’t make anxiety go away — but that he believes it helps him react calmly to stress. I found that I’ve become accustomed to a slight sense of stress-induced panic that’s actually somewhat motivating. Of course, high-stress and anxiety are still crushing problems for many — including millennials, who are still the most anxious generation by far.
In that sense, Recess is coming along at the right time, pinning all the hopes that CBD might be able to deliver us from the crushing sensation of anxiety, even for just a moment.
If that’s true, Recess may be all it’s chalked up to be — though that sense of calm connectedness does come at a premium — an eight pack goes for $39.99.
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