The future of cannabis consumption may not involve the cannabis plant at all.
“Years from now, most of the [major cannabis producers] aren’t going to grow a single plant,” Boris Jordan, founder of investment firm Measure 8 Venture Partners, said Tuesday at the GMP Securities 2019 Global Cannabis Conference in Toronto.
Jordan and other industry-watchers expect that demand for edibles, vapes, oils and other non-leaf cannabis products will eventually overtake the more traditional form of the drug.
Data backs them up. Flower-based products made up 66.1 per cent of the Colorado market in 2014 and only 54.1 per cent of the market in 2017, according to Miles Light, a University of Colorado economist with the Marijuana Policy Group.
Edibles saw a small increase in market share over that time period, but the bulk of the benefit went to vapes, oils and other cannabis concentrates. Light predicted that the flower-based share of the market in Colorado will eventually fall to 30 per cent.
“The heavy users, the connoisseurs, they will be demanding easy-to-store and easier-use products,” he said.
The other major factor affecting the Colorado market in recent years has been a steep decline in prices. Products from cannabis plants, which once cost about US$15 per gram, are now down to approximately US$5 per gram, while prices for concentrates have been cut in half.
From 2014 to 2017, the average price of one dose of cannabis in any form in Colorado fell from US$4.50 to US$1.90. Wholesale prices have been hit even harder.
SENIORS PREFER CANNABIS OIL
CBD oil has seen an explosion in popularity in places where cannabis has been legalized. Jason Wild, president of JW Asset Management, noted that beauty salons in Florida are starting to stock CBD products in their display cases. Even his 75-year-old mother has recently started using it to treat knee pain.
“I like to joke that CBD is the gateway drug,” he said.
“It brings people into cannabinoid-based products [who] would not try THC.”
Indeed, cannabis oil products also seem to be a hit with Canadian seniors who might not otherwise try the drug at all.
While specific national data on purchasing habits is nearly impossible to come by, Matei Olaru thinks he has a bit of a handle on the market. He’s the CEO of Lift & Co. Corp., which operates a website where people have submitted tens of thousands of reviews of legal-in-Canada cannabis products.
According to Olaru, 92 per cent of the site’s reviews are for flower-based products, while only eight per cent are reviews of oil-based products.
Seniors buck the trend, though, with 53 per cent of reviews from people aged 65 and older being for oil products.
“Who would have thought seniors are more likely to show a preference toward oil? We’re starting to see an early indication of this,” Olaru said.
New consumers of any age are also more likely to use CBD as a gateway to other cannabis products, which Olaru said may be because of its low THC content. More serious cannabis users are more likely to want high THC levels at lower prices.
SEARCHING FOR SYNTHETICS
Most experts speaking at the conference agreed that attempts to produce a stable, synthetic form of cannabis could be a major game-changer for the entire industry.
Jordan said synthetic cannabis would bring some of the world’s largest consumer goods companies into the cannabis game, because it would allow them to guarantee a consistent product -- something which they are unable to do with plants.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s very few cannabis companies in 10 years,” he said.
Wild sees things a little differently. He agrees that the consistency synthesis can bring will lead to more people being willing to try the drug, but says many current users won’t want to change their habits.
“A lot of people are going to want to consume hard, dried flower,” he said.
“A lot of those people are sort of anti-pharma, and they don’t want to buy a product that is synthetic.”
Jordan, though, sees historical precedent for consumer adoption of synthetic cannabis.
“Aspirin used to be a tree, and then Bayer came out and synthesized aspirin,” he said.
CANADIAN CANNABIS TRENDS
Other trends from Olaru’s data include older consumers being more willing to purchase a variety of different products, women being more likely than men to purchase more expensive cannabis products, and the youngest cannabis consumers being more likely to purchase some of the least expensive products on the market.
He also noted that no one company has been able to stake out a dominant position in the Canadian cannabis retail marketplace, with 10 brands each accounting for about 3 per cent of the total reviews on Lift’s site.
“The entire market is very fragmented,” he said.
Where Olaru sees fragmentation, Sebastien St-Louis sees opportunity. As CEO of cannabis producer Hexo Corp., he said he wants to develop strains of the drug that have specific effects -- maybe suppressing a user’s appetite, or maybe giving them a high that wears off quickly, allowing people to consume cannabis at lunch and return to work sober.
“Is it THC? Is it CBD?” Doesn’t matter. It’s about effect,” he said.
“These are all things we can do with 160-plus actives in this plant, and they’re all things we can do on the basis of this technology that we’re building.”
Hexo is working with Molson Coors to produce cannabis-infused beverages, and St-Louis foresees Fortune 500-level companies in the food, cosmetics and tobacco industries striking up similar partnerships with cannabis producers.