Michele Scott
Michele Scott is a Senior Research Analyst at Mintel. Michele focuses on US Cannabis reports.

The US Cannabis market is welcoming new consumers as more states legalize medical and adult use, and research about new applications brings more consumers into the fold. Because cannabis has a range of applications, from stress reduction to pain management, a holistic approach to health that includes physical, mental, sexual, and spiritual well-being opens the most doors. It is important to note that medical patients have different needs and priorities when it comes to cannabis, especially as it relates to format and dose. Including options like pills and topicals alongside products that are low-THC, and thus ideal for micro dosing, will help medical patients find what they need. Overall, most consumers don’t automatically associate cannabis as healthy or unhealthy and instead see it as relatively health-neutral. Other factors, then, like additives, can have a significant impact on how cannabis is perceived.

The future of cannabis

Medical cannabis will do well during challenging economic times, as these products are more likely to be non-negotiable for consumers. Medical products are also taxed at much lower rates, making them more affordable than recreational cannabis. While inflation hasn’t affected the cannabis market yet, product shortages will continue to impact growth. Wider legalization, especially federally, remains the most significant scenario for a boost in the market for both medical and recreational cannabis.

Play with ratios to minimize side effects

Medical cannabis patients may need cannabis to manage their conditions, but most of them have lives and responsibilities they need to manage simultaneously. Formulas that combine low-THC with high(er) CBD can offer the best of both worlds to consumers: a therapeutic dose without the psychoactive effect that can make it challenging to safely manage life.

For brands hoping to use social media to alert consumers to new products, Instagram Stories are often better for engagement than main grid posts. If brands are able to link to their websites or retailers, this is an added bonus, as it makes the process more seamless for consumers. Wana brands is one example of a brand using this strategy.

More consumers turning to cannabis rather than CBD for health

Cannabis messaging that aims to polish the health halo of THC is working, even compared to the messaging around CBD. According to Mintel Reports US, Cannabis and Health, 2022 general wellness is the strongest use case for cannabis and CBD users, though more consumers are reaching for THC. Since THC products are more closely regulated, it could be that cannabis users perceive these products as higher quality and/or more effective. Or, it could be related to the wider range of medical or health use cases that apply to THC over CBD.

Opportunities exist outside common uses

The challenge for cannabis brands is getting consumers interested in using it outside the typical occasions. Lapsed users are a small fraction across health categories, indicating that once consumers use cannabis for a health purpose, they tend to stick with it. Brands will also face the challenge of consumers jumping between brands, and will need to adjust to the competition.

Spiritual health and sexual health, then, represent opportunity because, while most consumers aren’t yet using cannabis for these reasons, those who do are sticking with it. Tying these new uses to more common ones will help consumers connect the dots. For sexual health, emphasize that pain-free, stress-free sex tends to be the most enjoyable. For spiritual health, emphasize how cannabis can help consumers get out of their own heads and into a more meditative state more quickly than medication or prayer alone.

Mistress Matisse, a famed dominatrix based in Seattle, has a line of THC-CBD personal lubricants. The brand claims they “have done extensive lab testing to ensure that Velvet Swing does not degrade latex, polyisoprene, nitrile, lambskin, or silicone,” making it compatible with condoms/safer sex and sex toys.

Use of new products has increased

COVID-19 boosted the cannabis market by creating a new consumer need (i.e. managing significant pandemic-related stress) and offering the opportunity for consumers to lean into new products and increased usage because lockdowns eliminated many outside-the-home entertainment options. More than half of cannabis consumers turned to THC in the pandemic to manage stress, and just over a third report trying new products or increasing their dosage. The challenge for brands will be to maintain this momentum, even as consumers are back to work and back to socializing.

What we think

Context matters for perceptions of cannabis as healthy

Whether or not cannabis is considered healthy strongly depends on context. Compared to alcohol, most consumers find it a BFY option, but less so compared to natural health remedies. Similarly, different formats hold different connotations, with those that have fewer additives tending towards healthier perceptions.

Holistic approach to health opens doors

Physical and mental health are the cornerstones of cannabis health use. Spiritual and sexual health have potential and bring a holistic perspective to well-being that interests a range of ages, genders, and motivations.

Patients approach cannabis differently

Medical cards and diagnoses affect how consumers approach cannabis, and for good reason. Unlike wellness or recreational users, these groups are true patients. They’re more likely to want a doctor’s monitoring, more likely to look for high THC, and generally less concerned about additives. They’re also more likely to consider all formats healthy because they’re using them for therapeutic reasons.