BCBD Medicinal is a vertically integrated cannabis grower and processor in Uruguay, and Consentina is its consumer-facing brand of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) infused with water-soluble CBD.
Uruguay was the first country in the world to legalize cannabis for both medical and recreational adult use in 2017, with the legislation was signed into law in 2013.
“We started with this product because it is an iconic beverage in South America mainly in Uruguay and Argentina," said Adrian Bartnicki, manager of BCBD Medicinal.
“Yerba mate is like a green tea but bitter and it contains ‘mateine’ which is a sort of strong caffeine. The effect of CBD balances the effect produced by the mateine, giving a sense of calm, mindful awareness and sharpness.”
Cannabis plants contain more than 60 cannabis compounds in varying degrees, including cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC is the main psychoactive active substance that makes marijuana users feel high while CBD is said to have calming, anti-inflammatory effects. Someone who drinks a CBD-infused soda will not feel high afterwards.
Yerba mate, meanwhile, contains three xanthines: caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline. The jury is still out on whether 'mateine', like 'theine' from tea or 'guaranine' from guarana, is chemically different from caffeine.
In any case, Consentina has found “great acceptance” in its native Uruguay, according to Bartnicki, something he attributes to its flavor.
“The flavor is very similar to the flavor of premium [yerba mate] brands. That is because our CBD doesn’t alter the taste and it doesn’t generate any side effects like acid reflux or headaches," he told FoodNavigator-LATAM.
Yerba mate: 'An iconic beverage from South America'
In addition to its domestic Uruguayan market, BCBD currently ships Consentina to Chile and Europe.
It believes that being able to sell in Argentina, where drinking yerba mate is a national pastime, would be a game-changer.
According to Argentinian trade association the National Institute of Yerba Mate (INYM), last year was ‘a record year’ for domestic sales of yerba mate, which hit 261.9 million kilos.
“The biggest market [for Consentina] is Argentina, but the regulatory situation is not ready yet,” Bartnicki said. “We are working together with local authorities to unlock the situation.”
The analyst’s view: 'A credible pairing'
Pairing CBD and yerba mate could have strong consumer appeal in South American countries, Euromonitor analyst Zora Milenkovic told us.
“Yerba mate is seen as traditional, natural and herbal and could give cannabis the credibility it has lacked,” she said.
Yerba mate is also traditionally drunk from a gourd using a shared straw that is passed between friends, which could be seen as mimicking the social aspect of sharing a joint.
“These kinds of rituals are not to be sniffed at,” Milenkovic said. “Think of the rituals involved in alcohol and drinking together for social occasions.”
'A successful business model'
According to Bartnicki, BCBD's CBD is shelf stable for at least one year.
“Our mission is to work with nature, extracting phyto molecules for health improvements [and] our journey includes many phases, like growing and testing, and that takes a lot of time. It's not ‘grinding and dumping’ the plant on a bag.
BCBD, which also works with 25 other medicinal plants and micro-algae, is also a B2B supplier of CBD ingredients.
“It is a successful business model,” he said. “[We] provide the best base product at the best price for different industries to package it and put it on the market. We are proud to be producers of very high quality and low cost unique raw material, and so are the developers that look for our supplies.”
Other CBD beverage pairings
In regions where yerba mate is not widely drunk, green tea is a common pairing for CBD and cannabis.
UK company Rokit makes Nespresso-compatible, organic green match tea pods and coffee pods, with one pod containing 5 mg of water-soluble CBD.
Rokit sources its robust Arabica coffee from both Central America and Africa, the matcha tea from Japan and the CBD from the US.
California-based tea company Buddha Teas, meanwhile, set up a subsidiary, Buddha Teas Mexico last year to bring its CBD and tea blends to Latin America.