Working in the cannabis industry, I’m always amazed by how quickly the landscape changes. New trends seem to spring out of the ground, some taking hold with others dying off almost as quickly as they appeared. Now that we’ve fully entered into the new year, it’s time to look at my first installment of the top trends dawning in 2018. Here’s my list of the top four marijuana trends for 2018.
Trend #1: Cannabis Goes Mainstream Worldwide
Kikoko's cannabis teas are featured in Oprah's magazine.
When my co-founder and I launched HelloMD over four years ago in California, more than a few people made it clear to us that getting into this industry was “a lot like getting into porn or gambling.” The implication was that it was an industry hiding in the shadows and moreover something to be ashamed of. Friends suggested that I make a “Plan B” and told me that having a family while getting involved in cannabis was on the fringe of what might be considered “respectable.” I was called a drug dealer more times than I care to think about, even though product sales was not a part of our roadmap at the time.
Fast forward to today, and everything’s changing—and fast. As of now, nine U.S. states have recreational cannabis laws and 19 more states allow marijuana for medical use. Opinion polls indicate that 61% of Americans support cannabis legalization, the highest it’s ever been. Canada, our progressive neighbor to the north, is now dwarfing the U.S. in regards to cannabis research, development and a federal government that supports medicinal and adult-use marijuana among the general population. Not to mention the fact that the Canadian stock exchange is going crazy for marijuana companies.
The cannabis industry is also now looking to Germany, where the federal government is embracing legalization and cannabis as a “doctor-prescribed, insurance-paid, and pharmacy-provided product.” Germany, the largest member state of the European Union, is now poised to possibly be the world’s largest cannabis market, with its 82 million citizens and positive economic growth forecast.
And women are stepping forward, supporting cannabis in the myriad ways that it may be used and consumed. I’ve held a firm belief since my time starting in the cannabis industry, that marijuana would begin to really go mainstream when women embraced the consumption of cannabis. This includes moms who use cannabis to help ease their children’s seizures as well as women who merely advocate for using cannabis as a way to relax and unwind.
We’ve seen Gwyneth Paltrow vaping within the glossy pages of her magazine Goop. In an interview, she states, “It’s incredible to see people who can’t sleep, or people who have chronic pain, report really positive results (with marijuana), and it’s a natural substance.” And most recently, O Magazine did a feature article on Kikoko, an innovative women-owned business in California that hosts high-end tea parties with cannabis-infused tea. When Oprah Winfrey deems cannabis acceptable enough to grace her pages, it’s time to take note.
FORECAST: We’ve reached the tipping point. 2018 is the year that cannabis comes out of the closet and goes mainstream. Women will be the driving force in mainstream acceptance as stigma decreases and more mainstream stars, such as Oprah, give cannabis their stamp of approval.
Trend #2: Cannabis as an Alcohol Replacement
Recently, I decided to reduce my alcohol intake, and sometimes use cannabis instead. In my experience, microdosing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is an effective alcohol replacement, without any of the negative side effects that come with drinking alcohol. Consuming cannabidiol (CBD), which has anti-anxiety properties and is non-psychoactive, also helps me relax and unwind after a stressful day at work. Reasons for substituting alcohol with cannabis may vary person to person, but it’s clear that cannabis is starting to be viewed as a healthier substitute for alcohol.
Alcohol is socially acceptable and taps into the pleasure-reward circuit in our brains, yet it causes a multitude of health problems—and in extreme cases death. Nearly 88,000 deaths are attributed to alcohol in the U.S. every year. It affects coordination, memory and even the executive functions of the cerebral cortex. It’s a depressant, can lead to alcoholism and damages the liver. And recent research has indicated that even moderate drinking can lead to brain damage. (Thanks, but I need all the brain cells I have left.) Alcohol is effectively a poison to our bodies; it’s a neurotoxin and, as we all know, can cause nasty unwanted hangovers the day after.
Cannabis also taps into our brain’s pleasure-reward circuit, allowing most people to feel good, if not euphoric. The big difference is that marijuana interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS), which has receptors throughout the body that respond to the compounds, or cannabinoids, within the plant. These cannabinoids create effects, depending on the person, such as pain relief, relaxation, an increased desire to sleep, decreased inflammation and even a stronger immune response, among other things. Even if someone consumes cannabis recreationally, they may have positive medical outcomes based on the properties inherent within the plant.
For the health conscious, or for folks who just want to reduce their intake of alcohol overall, cannabis is a great solution. A recent report indicates that millennials “are leading a major shift in consumption behavior as the stigma of cannabis use decreases and the collective perspective of cannabis shifts in a positive direction.” It seems that the purported medical benefits of cannabis minus the negative side effects of alcohol are making an excellent substitution for Friday night beers or Mommy’s chardonnay. In many instances, people have cited that they see marijuana as the “safer” choice over alcohol, and that with cannabis they’re less likely to make poor decisions, such as drinking and driving.
As people age, the risk of hangovers from alcohol increases. Consuming cannabis doesn’t lead to the same type of response. Although it’s not widely known why we get an alcohol hangover, some research indicates that it’s an inflammatory response that occurs in our bodies, similar to when we fight a viral infection. With cannabis, you don’t lose the entire day after, and as a result it feels as if it leads to a healthier and more active lifestyle for many.
The good news about this trend is that there have been zero cannabis-related deaths, so if society collectively shifts towards cannabis as an alcohol replacement, it may also save lives. And let’s face it, you don’t find many people in a bar fight after vaping cannabis.
FORECAST: Cannabis is increasingly becoming more socially acceptable and is a great alternative to alcohol. As a result, people are taking notice. Expect to see more and more people abstaining from alcohol in lieu of cannabis as well as more cannabis gatherings where alcohol is decidedly absent.
Trend #3: Cannabinoid THCV Can Help With Weight Management
Everyone knows about THC, the rock star cannabinoid in marijuana that boasts not only numerous medicinal properties but the psychoactivity that produces the high cannabis is so well known for. People are now also aware of CBD, the other superstar cannabinoid that’s non-psychoactive and is also an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic; it’s also really good at quelling anxiety.
Now we have a new cannabinoid kid on the block: tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)—and the hype may be warranted.
THCV was called the “sports car of cannabinoids” by Steep Hill labs for the strong energetic effect it creates. It contains around 25% of the psychoactivity of THC and may reduce or even stop panic attacks, which may be common for some people when ingesting strains higher in THC.
THCV is also known to be an anti-convulsant and a neuroprotectant; it may help with diabetes and is becoming well known for suppressing appetite. For people looking to eat less or radically suppress the desire to binge eat, THCV may be a possible solution. Note though, that THCV may make sleeping more difficult, so consuming it late at night to avoid fridge raids may be ill-advised.
It’s very rare to find THCV on its own. Most likely, it’s within cannabis flowers that also contain THC. Interestingly, THCV has the ability to alter some of THC’s effects, including elevated heart rate or impaired short-term memory. If you’re easily able to tolerate THC and enjoy psychoactive effects, THCV may be your ticket to weight management and increased energy.
FORECAST: People who are interested in weight management and a more balanced high will be asking cannabis retailers for strains higher in THCV. This in turn will lead to more strains becoming available. In addition, THCV-dominant strains will start to appear as well as THCV distillates.
Trend #4: Indica & Sativa Are Out—Terpenes Are In
The Phylos Galaxy, a data visualization of cannabis genetics.
“Help me find an indica strain that will put me to sleep.” This is a common statement along with, “Which sativa will wake me up and help me feel more energetic, more focused?” Typically, people go into a dispensary, and the cannabis consultant might suggest an indica for sleep or relaxation, a sativa for energetic daytime use or a hybrid strain for something in between. But according to genetics researchers, these classifications are now misleading, if not downright untrue. Mowgli Holmes, a geneticist that started Phylos Bioscience says, “If there were ever discrete varieties like that (indica, sativa, hybrid), they're gone now—they've just been bred out of existence.”
Mowgli’s company is mapping the genetics of cannabis through DNA sequencing with the goal of understanding the evolutionary history of each strain in the hopes of helping people better understand what they’re consuming. Creating data visualization from each cannabis sample has allowed us to see how closely related—or not—one strain is to another.
Clusters within the galaxy show close relationships between varieties of cannabis such as OG Kush, one of the most popular strains sold on the market today. In other words, many varieties are closely related, but have little to or nothing to do with indica, sativa or hybrid. To complicate matters, varieties were crossed with each other more frequently over the past 40 years, resulting in a big mish mash, creating even less certainty over lineage.
In lieu of sativa, indica and hybrid, many people are beginning to refer to the terpene profile of marijuana strains, which in many ways may have a larger impact on the overall effects as well as the therapeutic value of different cannabis strains. Terpenes are the oil compounds found in plants, such as cannabis, and some insects. They’re responsible for the taste and smell of cannabis plants, and possess medicinal benefits. There are 140 or more terpenes within cannabis, and they’re thought to increase the effects of the cannabinoids within cannabis.
A recent study by Dr. Ethan Russo, the director of research and development at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, found that “terpenoids are quite potent, and affect animal and even human behavior when inhaled.” They also noted that “[terpenes] display unique therapeutic effects that may contribute meaningfully to the entourage effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts.”
Interestingly, some terpenes act as an inhibitor to THC’s psychoactive high, which increases cannabis’s therapeutic values. Russo says terpenes “increase the potential of cannabis-based medicinal extracts to treat pain, inflammation, fungal and bacterial infections, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy and even cancer.”
FORECAST: We’ll see sativa, indica and hybrid used less and less in branded products and start to see individual terpenes listed when applicable.
We’ll have to see what the rest of 2018 has in store for the cannabis industry, but it’s clear that innovations in cannabis plants and products aren’t slowing down anytime soon.