As well as campari, gin and vermouth, the cocktails contain CBD oil, the popular name for Cannabidiol, a compound derived from the cannabis plant.
We’re at Adriaen Block, a bar in Queens that opened last August and bills itself as New York’s first CBD-focused restaurant and bar.
Our waiter Miguel, who adds the CBD oil to our drinks using an eyedropper, recommends we be patient. “It can take a while to kick in, 45 minutes or so,” he says.
For dinner we order a hamburger infused with CBD.
Spend even a few days in New York and you’ll notice these same three letters, CBD, popping up all over the place. Around the middle of last year, CBD experienced a sudden spike in popularity, leaping from the fringes to the mainstream of American society.
“I have never seen anything like the explosion that we’re seeing right now in CBD,” Bethany Gomez, an analyst at cannabis market research firm Brightfield Group, wrote in a report last year.
Brightfield estimates that sales of CBD products surged from $US174 million ($A245 million) in 2016 to $US590 million ($A831 million) last year. The firm predicts the market will grow to a staggering $US22 billion by 2022.
CBD can be found in moisturising creams, bath bombs, gourmet ice-cream and dog treats. Coca-Cola last year confirmed it was exploring creating a CBD-infused beverage. Cafes are increasingly adding it to their coffee, as they would a flavour shot.
“It has proliferated like wildfire,” says Aaron Cook, co-founder of Charley St, an Australian-owned cafe in Manhattan’s Nolita district.
Cook, originally from Perth, says Charley St recently began trialling CBD oil in its coffees. He expects it to become a permanent option for customers.
Unlike its sister cannabis compound THC, CBD is not psychoactive and won’t get you stoned. Fans describe it as having a calming sensation, similar to the feeling after you take a warm bath or practise meditation.
“It doesn’t pop off the tongue,” Cook says. “While caffeine can give some people a real rush, this can soften it and mellow you out.”
Many customers have a CBD-infused coffee to calm their mind before heading into the office in the morning, he says.
Studies have shown that pharmaceutical-grade CBD can help reduce seizures for people with epilepsy. But most people say they use it for other reasons, most commonly to relieve inflammation-related pain, to improve sleep and to reduce anxiety.
It’s easy to see why CBD has taken off in the Big Apple, where stereotypically high-strung and neurotic New Yorkers are not hard to find. It’s also a city where many residents are distressed at the direction their country is taking under Donald Trump.
Michelle Goldberg, a left-wing columnist at The New York Times, explained in a recent podcast how she started consuming CBD gummy bears as a way to cope with the disturbing news stories emanating from the White House.
She said she found the gummies particularly useful to calm her nerves on the day of the November midterm elections, when it looked as if the Democrats may underperform expectations. (They ended up reclaiming the House of Representatives easily.)
One of the most most remarkable things about CBD’s rise is that it occurred despite its legally dubious status.
In 1970, the US Congress designated hemp as a substance on par with marijuana, meaning it had “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”. This made CBD illegal at a federal level in almost all forms.
That changed just before Christmas, when Trump signed into law a new Farm Bill legalising hemp as long as it contains less than 0.3 per cent THC.
The bill was supported by many conservative Republicans, mostly because small-scale farmers, struggling to compete with China and Latin America, were desperate for a new crop to cultivate.
The passage of the new law was applauded by Elixinol Global, an ASX-listed company headquartered in Sydney that makes CBD oil and similar products.
“It was the biggest legislative change I have seen in my 23 years in the industry,” says Elixinol chief executive Paul Benhaim.
“We have already grown 120 per cent over the past year and are expecting to see a significantly faster growth in 2019.”
Under the new laws, Benhaim says it will be easier for hemp companies to get credit from banks and to access crop insurance. Digital giants Facebook and Google had also been wary of CBD; now it will be easier for companies to market directly to consumers.
The company is planning to double the production size at its plant in Colorado and hire extra staff.
While CBD’s spruikers are keen to distinguish it from pot, the product’s surge in popularity has run in tandem with a growing acceptance of marijuana in US society.
While the drug remains illegal at a federal level, recreational cannabis is now legal in 10 US states including California, Colorado, Michigan and Oregon. Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states.
With Democratic candidates angling to appeal to young and non-white voters, marijuana legalisation is expected to feature prominently in the party’s 2020 presidential primaries.
Legalising cannabis is increasingly seen as a racial justice issue given African Americans disproportionately go to jail for possessing and distributing the drug.
Benhaim says when it comes to both CBD and weed, the US and Australia could not be further apart.
In Australia CBD products are classed as a form of medical marijuana, meaning only some of the 2000 patients approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration can access them legally.
“Australia’s restrictive legislation for non-psychoactive CBD products means there is really no market for them in Australia,” Benhaim says.
“We are growing in the US, Japan, Europe. Even though we are an Australian company, Australia is the only country not showing the growth we see elsewhere.”
As for the purported benefits of CBD, Benhaim stresses: “We make no claims on our products whatsoever.”
Indeed, there is currently little credible evidence to support many of the positive effects credited to CBD.
“Future studies may show otherwise, but at present CBD looks more like an expensive placebo than a panacea,” Richard Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry, wrote recently in The New York Times.
Aaron Cook, from the Charley St cafe, suspects many of the benefits his customers attribute to CBD can be explained by the placebo effect.
But if they feel more relaxed – and don’t suffer any negative side effects – he says no harm has been done.
According to the World Health Organisation, there is no evidence of “any public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD”.
After initially feeling disappointingly unaffected by our Stoney Negronis, my friend and I decided the Adriaen Block experience was largely a gimmick.
Later that night, we agreed we felt more languid than normal. The next morning I woke up from an unusually deep night’s sleep to find it was 11.30am. I had overslept by four hours.
Our verdict: CBD isn’t for everyone, but there is little to lose by giving it a try. Just remember to set an alarm before going to bed.
Matthew Knott is a Fairfax Media reporter based in the United States. He previously worked in the Canberra press gallery and recently finished a Masters of Journalism at Columbia University in New York.