By Scott Leeker
When a consumer visits a grocery store, they often compare prices across brands to ensure they get the “best bang for their buck.” In the cannabis industry, however, this approach has some drawbacks. While consumers of cannabis shouldn’t ignore the prices, quantities, and characteristics of the products they are buying, the focus of today’s consumer is often not being placed where it should be. Today’s cannabis consumer typically focuses on one thing to determine whether or not a product is worth their money — THC content. While consumers should be aware that THC content is important, it’s far from the most important thing. Unfortunately, this common misconception is causing major strains on the cannabis industry.
Everyone’s endocannabinoid system works differently, interacting with cannabis to produce distinct effects on the body and mind. Because of this, different characteristics in any given sample of cannabis don’t always affect one person the same way they affect their friend smoking the same sample right next to them. This is why consumption makes some people feel anxious, paranoid, or negative, while others have the complete opposite experience.
Unfortunately, most cannabis consumers are unaware of how necessary an understanding of one’s own endocannabinoid system is. Characteristics of cannabis, such as the non-psychoactive terpene profiles that are now understood to be incredibly important regarding reactions to cannabis consumption, are being ignored in favor of THC content. This is in no small part due to the way that cannabis information has been presented to consumers. Wicked Hiiigh podcast co-host and industry organizer Marissa Twichell shares, “Unfortunately, I blame our industry for the state that we’re in. We’ve trained our consumers to walk into a dispensary and look for the highest tester at the most affordable price.”
Why does this matter? Shouldn’t you want to get as high as possible for the most affordable price? Not necessarily. “We should be focusing on the terpene profiles and the cannabinoid content,” says Twichell. “That’s something that we’ve really lost in translation with the consumer.”. Even enthusiasts, such as Twichell and her co-host Julie Wood, agree that cannabis products testing at levels such as 40% THC can be too much for them, and for most consumers.
Wood and Twichell, as well as Steep Hill Director of Marketing Christian Poole, compare buying cannabis to purchasing alcohol. When a consumer buys alcohol, they don’t typically look for the product with the highest alcohol content. Instead, they look for the product that they like and that works best for them. Even alcoholic beverages with the same alcohol content can affect the body differently.. “40% vodka versus 40% whiskey,” says Poole, giving an example. “Same active ingredients, but not often experienced the exact same way.” Cannabis is not dissimilar.
The misplaced emphasis on THC content drives the cannabis industry further and further into a cycle of harming consumers. Imagine this: a consumer goes into a dispensary, believes that THC is the only consideration necessary for their purchase, buys the cheapest product with the highest THC levels, and leaves. Now, imagine everyone doing that. The entire industry begins to realize that their products need to have higher THC levels in order to sell. Instead of educating the consumer and showing them that cannabis has so much more to offer, sellers simply play the game of providing products with higher THC levels.
Consumer harm doesn’t stop there, either. Because higher THC levels are necessary for sales, fraud has quickly become a problem in the cannabis industry. Reports in several markets across the past few years have found that some labs accepted financial compensation in return for providing fraudulently inflated THC levels on products. This hurts the consumer because they are unaware of exactly what they are consuming. As Poole says about THC content, “You really want to understand what in that product is affecting people and how much of it is in there.” Fraudulent testing hinders the ability of the consumer to acquire that knowledge. Fraudulent THC levels hurt smaller cannabis producers, too. Many do not have the desire or financial ability to play the THC content game and risk of going out of business. Still, the problem at the root of the cannabis industry is consumer education.
Driving the market towards smarter consumerism seems to be the main priority for those fighting to curb fraudulent testing in the cannabis industry. . Wood says, “I would like to see the industry, priority-wise, start that education piece first. I think that’s going to be the first thing: getting people to understand that, and that will drive the market.” If consumers can confidently pick products based on the qualities that matter specifically to them, as opposed to THC content alone, the demand for high THC content in products will drastically decline.
How can consumers get this important education?. Wood and Twichell suggest using your personal resources, such as budtenders at your dispensaries, keeping a journal of the products that affect you and how, and making sure you understand as much about what you are consuming as possible. Poole agrees that it’s difficult to break out of the cycle, but emphasizes an industry-wide approach, saying “People like the labs, the cultivators, the cannabis companies are all in it together to update people’s understanding of the most important aspects and qualities of cannabis.”
It is clear that more education is necessary, and it can begin with the individual. To educate yourself, ensure that you understand what you are consuming, do personal logging and research on your own relationship with cannabis, and stay updated on the cannabis industry and the way that its products are regulated.