HelloMD’s co-founder Pamela Hadfield joined a lively roster of industry insiders at the Wine & Weed Symposium, held in Santa Rosa, CA, last week. Pamela gave her take on the latest cannabis trends that she’s seen crop up over the past year or more.
Introduced by David Downs, the new California bureau chief at Leafly, Pamela got rolling with some of the biggest trends such as cannabis going mainstream, what with politicians on both sides of the aisle identifying as pro-cannabis. And she shared personal stories along the way—including how her own decades-long pain as a migraine sufferer got her to see cannabis in a new light.
Following are excerpts from her walk through the top 10 emerging trends in cannabis:
Trend #1: Cannabis Goes Mainstream
“Some might say that cannabis has been mainstream for some time. I would argue that 2018 and 2019 are where we're going to see the tipping point in terms of the conversation around cannabis, the destigmatization of it. … We have 30 medically legal states and Washington, D.C. And we have nine recreationally legal states. What this is doing is it's forcing the conversation across the country.
“We also see that mainstream media is accepting cannabis. When we look at O magazine, and it does a large spread on cannabis, or we look at Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow's platform, and they're talking about cannabis so readily, it changes the conversation across the nation. … When you look at the New York Times, when you look at Vogue, when you look at Forbes and their willingness to accept this and write about cannabis, that's going to change how we all accept it, because we're shaped by the media around us.”
Trend #2: Cannabis for Health & Wellness
“Most people who come to HelloMD, I would qualify them either as having compromised health or as a lifestyle consumer. What's interesting is, if you start out as a lifestyle consumer, say somebody in their mid-30s who comes back to cannabis after not trying it since college, this lifestyle consumer may be somebody who just wants to relax on a Friday night. That person will often cycle into using it more than for health and wellness concerns like insomnia or anxiety, and somebody like myself who wasn't truly medical but had compromised health, would never have considered being a lifestyle consumer before.
“But after cannabis solves some of my health issues, I now may consume it to feel a little bit better on a Friday night. If you end up taking some cannabis to decrease stress, that's for your health, that's for your own wellness. So people are starting to look at cannabis in a very different way—as a tool for wellness—and that's something I'm really excited about because I believe that this should be accessible to everyone for that reason.”
Trend #3: Cannabis as the Exit Drug for the Opioid Epidemic
“Seventy thousand people across North America are dying every year from opioid overdoses. HelloMD did one of the largest studies on chronic pain, cannabis and opioids; 3,000 patients were surveyed about introducing cannabis into their treatment protocol. The fascinating thing was once they started to use cannabis, it actually increased the efficacy of the opioids and they decreased their consumption. Ninety-seven percent of people indicated they decreased or eliminated use of opioids altogether. That's an amazing statistic.
“And there's a lot of new research out there that's mimicking exactly what we found. The biggest hurdle I see in terms of the widespread adoption of cannabis as an exit drug to the opioid epidemic is not general consumers. It's the general practitioners who continue to not look at the research, to not accept cannabis as a valuable treatment. So I urge everyone in this room to talk to your doctor.”
Trend #4: Big Pharma’s Move Into Cannabis
“I see a lot of undercurrents of what's happening with Big Pharma in the cannabis industry. And my prediction is that within two to five years, assuming that federal law changes and cannabis goes out of Schedule 1 status, is that Big Pharma will swoop in.
“The big pharmaceutical company that's betting on cannabis right now is GW Pharma, based in the U.K. The FDA just approved its antiseizure medication, Epidiolex. And I think the unique thing about that medication is that it’s actually using whole plants. The reason I mention that is because Big Pharma’s tendency is much more to go towards synthetic cannabinoids, developing synthetics out of barley, yeast, different things like that.”
“Meanwhile, what’s feeding into Big Pharma is biotech companies that are creating these synthetic cannabinoids. For example, there's a company up in Canada that's been very successful at creating THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) out of, I believe it's a yeast. And so they’re going to be poised for acquisition by Big Pharma.”
Trend #5: One Size Does Not Fit All
“When I walked into dispensaries about five years ago, what I noticed was that all of the products pretty much seemed the same. A lot of them would be almost entirely all flower and very, very high THC content. I would ask, ‘Do you have anything lower in THC? And they would actually laugh at me and say, ‘Nobody wants that.’ And I was like, ‘Well, I kind of need and want that.’
“Demand is now pushing innovation. We’re in a culture where we have one of the best product arrays available on the planet. We have incredibly innovative new products coming out all of the time, and a lot of them are lower in THC and high in CBD (cannabidiol), which is the non-psychoactive portion of the plant.”
Trend #6: Over-Regulation With Adult-Use Legalization in CA
“I've heard from a lot of people who come from Canada and say, ‘We come down to California to look at your product selection. We come down to look and see what you guys are making.’ Since Prop 64 passed and since January 1, the cannabis industry has basically been decimated by overregulation. We went from having probably 1,500 dispensaries operating legally to about 300 in the state. We went from having over 1,000 brands to having just 150 or so compliant legal brands in the state today.
“We also have what I think is the biggest travesty of overregulation, which is Californians were basically voting to have a legal system so that everyone could have access, because that was the dream. That's what they were sold, but the reality is that 70% of the state right now is practically dry—70%.
“Now when you think about a patient, I think about myself. If I couldn't get access to medication, it would probably drive me to the black market. But when you look at all of these medical patients across California and patients who actually need access, they’re not given access because local municipalities have deemed it unsafe to have cannabis dispensaries or delivery within their jurisdiction.”
Trend #7: Microdosing Cannabis
“This has been on the rise for quite some time. Microdosing is the idea that you take the minimum amount of cannabis or any other substance to create the maximum overall beneficial effect. I like to compare microdosing to wine. If you drink a whole bottle of wine, most people won't feel very good.
“Most people, when they start with cannabis, they have that macro-dose experience, and it scares them off of trying cannabis again. So, when you talk about microdosing and on-ramping people, this is like giving them that sort of half glass of wine, right? And just allowing them to try cannabis and try it safely and to titrate up.
“So we're seeing an enormous amount of products by a variety of brands right now that offer very low-dose microdosed cannabis products.”
Trend #8: Weight Management With Cannabis
“The reality is cannabis consumers tend to have a lower BMI (body mass index) and a lower or a smaller waist size than non-cannabis consumers do. Now you could say that’s sort of negligible, but THC has many different components within it that actually changes your gut microbiome; it actually can help speed up your metabolism.
“The other interesting thing is that CBD has been found in new research to also boost metabolism, but it will also convert white fat cells to brown fat cells. And brown fat cells actually burn energy.”
Trend #9: Other Cannabinoids
“There are now new cannabinoids—other than CBD and THC—that you can select on dispensary shelves and have delivered to your door. For example, CBG (cannabigerol), which promotes bone growth and is an anti-spasmodic. And when you take the whole plant together, they have tremendous therapeutic value.”
Trend #10: Terpenes
“Terpenes are amazing. They’re part of the cannabis plant that create that aromatic smell and have been shown to have incredible therapeutic value. Terpenes aren’t just in cannabis but are in many different plants.
“You'll start to see people talking about terpenes in addition to cannabinoids when you buy products. A certain product will have linalool and these are the effects. And this is the smell pinene, which is the smell of pine, and so on.”