20 March 2022 |

Accurately Presenting Cannabis Products To Consumers

By Matthew O'Brien

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I am deeply frustrated.

The cannabis industry has no shortage of incredibly smart people, and yet we as an industry continue to say a lot of stupid things.

This realization dawned upon me yesterday as I made my way around a cannabis retail store for the first time in over a year — having called Ireland home in 2021.

What’s The Problem?

The core problem I am seeking to break down in today’s edition of The Green Paper is the continued misrepresentation of cannabis products to consumers.

In my eyes, this problem has two parts.

First and foremost, we have the misrepresentation of the meanings of the terms Indica, Sativa & Hybrids.

Secondly, we have the misrepresentation of how we quantify the quality of cannabis products all across North America today.

Indica, Sativa, Hybrids

Walk into any cannabis retail store at random today and there’s a 90% chance that one of the very first questions you will be asked is whether you are looking to purchase an Indica, Sativa, or a Hybrid cannabis product.

Should you proceed to ask the budtender the meaning of these terms, I would once again wager there’s a 90% chance that you will receive some version of the following response;

  • Indica’s provide a body high.
  • Sativa’s provide a head high.
  • Hybrids provide the best of both.

At first glance this categorization scheme generally makes sense.

There’s a range of effects cannabis products can produce, and at a high level these terms aren’t a million miles off describing the range of effects people can expect to experience from consuming cannabis.

While these terms do an above average job at communicating the effects consumers can expect to experience from cannabis, they consistently fail to help consumers understand how cannabis products will effect them prior to consuming it.

These terms are merely a representation of the physical characteristics of cannabis plants, they have nothing to do with the effects cannabis products produce.

  • Sativa cannabis plants are taller in height with narrow leaves.
  • Indica cannabis plants are shorter in height with much wider leaves.
  • Hybrid cannabis plants can fall anywhere in between these characteristics.
(The true meaning of these terms)

Why Does This Matter?

There’s a famous saying that; happiness = expectations — the outcome.

As such, every time a consumer purchases a cannabis product labeled as an Indica and it produces an alternative effect vs how this product was advertised to this consumer, we as an industry run the risk of losing this consumer who may perceive cannabis simply does not work for them.

When I worked as a budtender, I candidly lost count of the number of times customers would ask why the Indica product they purchased kept them up at night, when they were seeking out something sedative to help them sleep.

The response back then? Yes, well that strain is more of a hybrid which is why it produced this effect — another all too common lie our industry likes to tell.

What’s The Solution?

In an ideal world cannabis consumers would receive product recommendations whereby we would leverage large datasets to match consumers to the correct cannabis product that would produce their desired outcome.

Unfortunately, such a software solution doesn’t exist today, and it likely won’t for many years to come, however, there are alternatives.

I subscribe to the viewpoint that the solution to this problem in our industry is to categorize flower broadly based on their aroma.

Credit to Colin Bambury from THC Canada who suggested this approach.

In the case of cannabis edibles, the terms Indica & Sativa have no place on these products as we are yet to substantiate in any way that terpenes dictate the effects 11 hydroxy THC produces — the metabolic byproduct created as the THC edibles in passes through your GI tract and liver.

Does this aroma centric approach have its limitations? Sure it does, however, it’s my viewpoint that it’s 100x better than the current cannabis industry best practice.

Problem Number Two…

The second problem I will be breaking down is the current approach to quantify the quality of cannabis products.

In 2022, the most common unit of measurement to measure the value of cannabis products is the quantity of THC a product contains.

Once again, we as an industry are guilty of trading accuracy for sake of simplicity.

A Catch 22

Currently, a large percentage of consumers believe that the best way to purchase cannabis products is to look for the product with the highest amount of THC for the lowest price point possible.

They believe this, as we have “educated” consumers that this is the case.

I personally think this is the equivalent of telling consumers they should purchase candy based on the amount of sugar it contains.

We don’t purchase alcoholic beverages solely based on the amount of alcohol they contain, however, we are seemingly recommending that consumers should focus on this single molecule when purchasing cannabis?

With so many consumers believing that this is the best approach to purchase cannabis – brands are in a position whereby if they don’t produce high THC products they run the risk of being de-listed cannabis retailers shelves.

What’s The Solution?

The solution to this problem is time.

Currently, the cannabis industry is in a “THC arms race” as Brian Geddes coined the term, however, as the cannabis industry continues to mature we will see more & more brands like Cann focusing on lower dosage products.

This is likely one of the biggest opportunities in the entire cannabis industry.

Simultaneously, producing low dosage cannabis products is also an incredibly difficult undertaking today as few retailers will be willing to stock your products, however, long term this is a gigantic opportunity.

There’s a good reason why distilled spirits account for 7% of the sales of alcoholic beverages in the United States, and I am willing to wager that long term there will be vastly more consumers interested in lower dosage products vs the consumers interested in the highest THC products available.

Looking Forward…

I remain very optimistic that we as an industry can course correct the mistakes we have made when it comes presenting cannabis products to consumers.

That said, the difficulty is that the cannabis industry has simply come to accept the shortcomings of this approach whereby we continue to misinform consumers on the true meaning of the terms Indica, Sativa & Hybrid.

As it pertains to the shortcomings of the current approach to quantify the quality of cannabis products – time itself will erase the existence of this problem as more brands bet resources on the success of this category of cannabis products.

Our Take 

The cannabis industry is in its infancy today.

As such, we should never be willing to settle for the current status quo given how ridiculously early we are in the process of building this billion dollar industry.