Hemp-derived flavored waters make their way to Triad bars

A Boonville company called Carolinabis has been getting attention with its latest product, flavored waters made with chemical compounds known as cannabinoids that are derived from hemp.

Hemp is the same species, cannabis sativa, that produces marijuana. 


Carolinabis Wild Waters

Michael Hastings

But the difference in hemp — and what makes it legal in North Carolina — is that it has much less of the cannabinoid called Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, that gets people high.

The 2018 federal Farm Bill removed hemp from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act — with the major stipulation that the potency in any hemp product is no more than 0.3% concentration by dry weight. North Carolina, like other states, has since passed its own hemp laws that mirror the federal law.

“What we’re talking about is the cannabis plant, but it comes in two forms from a legal perspective,” said Rod Kight, an attorney in Asheville who specializes in hemp and cannabis law. “Hemp is cannabis with no more than 0.3% Delta-9. Any more than that, and it’s classified as marijuana and illegal.”

Carolinabis sells online and to local bars and restaurants. It makes two kinds of flavored waters. Still waters are sold in 16-ounce bottles in four flavors: grapefruit, key lime, blackberry and apple cider. They are calorie- and sugar-free, but they do contain small, legal amounts of HHC, another type of cannabinoid.


Shawn (left) and Karen King are owners of Carolinabis, which is based in Boonville.

Michael Hastings

Carolinabis also sells a carbonated, or sparkling, version of the waters in the same flavors but made a bit differently, containing Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

And, yes, both the still and sparkling waters do deliver a buzz — but a mild one.

Owners Karen and Shawn King formerly ran a microgreens business in Boonville from 2015 to 2017. When federal legislation in 2018 allowed people to grow hemp, the Kings made the switch.

The Kings believe in the potential medicinal properties of hemp-derived products. They also produce flowered buds, muscle gels, oils, brownies and gummies. Some of these contain the CBD cannabinoids, which have become popular in recent years. 

CBD products have become so popular that whole stores devoted to them have cropped up everywhere, including Salem Organic Supply, Apotheca and Camel City Hemp in Winston-Salem. Like Carolinabis, some of these shops sell products with HHC or THC as well as CBD.


A sign on the bar in Fords Food Hall at ROAR advertises Carolinabis Wild Waters.

Michael Hastings

“CBD gives you the body relaxation,” Karen King said, “but that’s all.” With HHC or THC, “you are going to get high,” she said.

But the Kings say that the doses in the products are small for practical as well as legal reasons.  “Bigger doses aren’t a good experience,” Shawn King said. “It’s like getting drunk. Most people don’t want that.”

Carolinabis grows its own hemp from specially bred seeds, and the hemp undergoes testing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine its concentration of cannabinoids and make sure it is under the legal limit. 

It has grown hemp both outdoors and indoors but currently is producing it all indoors hydroponically so that it can grow year-round without use of pesticides.

The Food and Drug Administration “has not approved a marketing application for cannabis for the treatment of any disease or condition,” it says on its website. “FDA has, however, approved one cannabis-derived and three cannabis-related drug products. These approved products are only available with a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider.”

In other words, companies such as Carolinabis cannot make health claims on its package labels. But the Kings do share anecdotes and testimonials about how the products have helped people.

In an interview, Karen King mentioned a cousin going through chemotherapy. “He said it helps him with the chemo. Now, he can sleep at night.”


Shawn King of Carolinabis at the company’s manufacturing facility.

Shawn King said he has personally seen benefits, both from panic attacks, pain and more. For the last couple of years, he said, he has been living with stage four cancer. In the last 18 months, he has had two surgeries for the cancer, which started in his colon and moved to his liver, but his latest CT scan came back clean.

“Cancer makes you nauseous, and I had lost 20 pounds,” he said. “I got my appetite back and the pain was suppressed” while taking these hemp products.

“I also was diagnosed bipolar/manic in my 20s, and I would have panic attacks,” he said. “This has really worked for me, so it’s a personal passion.”

Though the Kings are very interested in the medicinal properties of hemp, the introduction of their beverages into bars may accentuate the recreational aspects of hemp products. But local business owners seem to see these products as a good alternative to alcoholic beverages.

Juggheads Growlers and Pints on Country Club Road was one of the first businesses in Winston-Salem to offer Carolinabis Wild Waters on tap, right alongside all its beers.

“We started carrying them four or five months ago,” said owner Ben Pritchard. “Almost as soon as they dropped off the first keg, we had to call them back and reorder. I’ve been shocked how much customers like it.”


Shawn King tends to equipment at Carolinabis.

Pritchard said he now goes through four to six kegs a week — with about 55 servings in each keg. He said he normally likes to rotate his taps, but customers won’t let him take Wild Waters off the menu. “That and Ginger’s Revenge Lime Agave are the only two things we have all the time,” Pritchard said.

He said he makes a point of not serving more than two Wild Waters to any one customer. “But it doesn’t inebriate you. It just kind of mellows you out.”

He does let customers fill growlers to take home. “I have customers getting two 64-ounce growlers a week. One guy was getting a growler and taking it to his father in the hospital — he said it helped him with the pain.”

Michael Millan, the chef/owner of Mojito Latin Soul Food on North Trade Street, said he is using Wild Waters in a mocktail version of his popular mojito, which he dubbed “moweeto.”

He uses the lime-flavored sparkling Wild Waters instead of Bacardi rum and soda, and then adds muddled lime and mint, plus house-made syrup.

“It’s really tasty,” Millan said. “I find a lot of people like myself who don’t drink alcohol gravitate toward it. To me, alcohol is poison. I haven’t had a drink in 10 years. So, it’s nice to have that ability to hang out and not drink with other people.”

Wild Waters is joining a host of nonalcoholic products that are becoming standard for mocktails for the growing number of people who like to socialize in bars but don’t want to drink alcohol.


Carolinabis Company sparkling water flavors include Apple Cider, Grapefruit, Key Lime and Blackberry.

“It’s really innovative. It’s really interesting what they’re doing,” Millan said of Carolinabis. “It’s such a great product because it doesn’t blow your head off. It’s a gradual, easy buzz feeling.”


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