From reefer madness to wellness tourism: the future of the cannabis industry
A view from Meghan Linehan

Culture out of crisis: The future of the cannabis industry

Marijuana is moving into the mainstream.

At the beginning of lockdown in the US, the cannabis industry was declared an essential service in states where the plant is legal, marking a pivotal moment in the history of cannabis.

Long maligned as an outlaw intoxicant that could induce “reefer madness”, cannabis is now considered critical to the health and happiness of mankind. Cannabis isn’t just providing a well-earned escape from the world's ills, it’s also part of the fight against them, as scientists have claimed a strong strain of the plant could be used to prevent or treat infection by coronavirus.

CBD oil, derived from the cannabis plant but without its psychoactive properties, has been hailed as a miracle ingredient by the booming wellness industry in recent years for its many beneficial properties, including its ability to relieve pain and fight inflammation. Think tank Centre for Medicinal Cannabis estimates that the CBD market in the UK could be worth almost £1bn a year by 2025. 

CBD can be found in everything from face serums to snack bars. Last year’s Oscars gift bag was full of CBD products and Kim Kardashian became the unofficial face of CBD when she hosted a CBD-themed baby shower for her fourth child last year.

For all its fashionability, cannabis is nothing new. People have been using it as far back as the third millennium BC (just last month, archaeologists discovered that ancient Israelites burned cannabis during religious worship). But the plant’s image has changed beyond recognition over the past few years. As well as the focus on health and wellness, we are seeing the “premiumisation” of marijuana and the emergence of cannabis “wellness tourism”, with plans for luxury cannabis hotels to open in California, where weed is legal. These venues, with their sleek design and lavish smoking lounges, are as far away as it is possible to get from bongs in student dorms. 

Hemp and CBD are now seen as hero products in skincare. Luxury spas offer CBD treatments and many skincare launches have centred on the ingredient. For example, Avon has just launched its first CBD skincare product, a CBD-infused facial oil, and This Works recently released an entire CBD line. According to Mintel research, nearly half of women are interested in trying make-up with added CBD, showing the huge appeal of the ingredient in the beauty sector.

Despite the growth of the industry, confusion and taboos around cannabis products persist and legislation hasn’t caught up to consumer interest. Even though you can pick up CBD oil in your local Boots, marketing the products is heavily restricted. Laws preventing cannabis businesses from paying for advertising on platforms such as Google and Facebook has seen pure-play CBD brands having to be creative about their approach to social media. 

There are many UK CBD brands on Instagram, with some turning to influencers to build trust and fame. For example, UK brand Love Hemp has been promoted by athletes and sports influencers on social media, such as kickboxer Liam Harrison. Similarly, US CBD brand Mendi counts Megan Rapino and Sue Bird among its ambassadors (and board advisors). 

As the industry matures and the marijuana market expands, cannabis suppliers both large and small are putting greater focus on their brands and what they stand for. And to engage the growing number of consumers prioritising their health and well-being, they are adopting the language of wellness. These companies are also investing in mission statements, product positioning and packaging to appeal to the growing consumer interest in well-being and purpose, such as US cannabis company Medicine Man Technologies, which was renamed Schwazze, after the process of “schwazzing” or pruning cannabis plants.

The sector is also aiming to tap into the younger generation’s desire to support sustainability. Many cannabis companies are investing in more ecologically sound growing techniques, including using LED lighting and solar power, and adjusting their packaging – within the legal restrictions on the product – to address this.

We work with Cherry, a US cannabis brand that has seen a sales uptick during the pandemic from customers using both medical and recreational cannabis for wellness. According to Cherry’s dispensary partners, with people staying at home there has been less need to be discreet about consumption – another factor behind the cannabis sales increase. 

In light of Covid-19, this emphasis on purpose and improving the human condition will intensify. Undoubtedly, the increased consumer interest in holistic health and well-being that has come with the pandemic will continue to help fuel the rapid growth of this industry. Marijuana’s move into the mainstream has already begun.

Meghan Linehan is director of accounts at Something Different