The big surprise of cannabis legalization might be the size of the low dose market
A significant part of Canada’s legal cannabis market may turn out to be very light consumers, the U.S. experience in legal states implies.
And surprisingly, some consumers may not be looking for a psychoactive effect at all, but a low-dose way of blunting chronic pain or anxiety.
In legal U.S. markets, many women and new users often consume a little cannabis at a time, being careful with dosing, says Linda Gilbert of BDS Analytics, a cannabis industry market research company based in Boulder, Co.
“We do see that consumers are looking for a more portioned experience, particularly certain segments of consumers, for example, moms.”
“We see a surprising amount of cannabis use among moms with young children at home. They like the low dose — they’re not looking to get inebriated. They’re looking to take the edge off.”
For many years, plant breeders for illegal markets have produced cannabis products with steadily more and more THC, which has startled occasional users who only meant to dabble a toe in the shallow end, or remembered much less potent pot many years ago.
A fully developed legal market, on the other hand, is better at catering to people who want a mild, limited experience with control over doses.
Among edible consumers in legal states, a fifth of those that pay attention to dosing stay strictly at the low end, consuming five mg or less at a time. Another 15 per cent limit themselves to 5-10 mg, Gilbert says.
“We’re going to see the trend move away from the high-tolerance recreational user, which is going to become more and more of a niche in the future, into parents, seniors, people who are really integrating cannabis into a healthy lifestyle or using it to relax at the end of the day or something,” says Christie Strong of Kiva Confections, a California-based maker of chocolate and candy products with THC.
“With large amounts, you’re unfocused, you’re scattered, it’s overwhelming, it’s very uncomfortable. It’s important that people start with a very low dose until they understand how it affects their body.”
Gilbert points to a group of consumers who are “light, frequent users,” using edibles daily, but at low levels.
Others in effect use low-dose edibles as over-the-counter pain relief, Gilbert says.
“There are a lot of people who, in this microdosing area, are coming into the category for medical reasons, which is pain or anxiety. They don’t want to get high so much as they don’t want to be in pain,” she says.
“Some are using it for something like monthly cramps or irritability, mood swings. They will be a light user who is using regularly, as in monthly, but not a daily high-frequency consumer.”
“The thing about a microdose is that, for many people, it’s not psychoactive,” Strong says.”It’s such a low dose of THC that it’s not giving them that side effect of the psychoactive experience.”
This end of the cannabis market seems to have much in common with light alcohol users, but Strong and Gilbert both caution that cannabis is much more varied in the way it affects people than alcohol is, and the new user should experiment cautiously.
“You and I could use the exact same product, and it makes you feel happy and comfortable, and it makes me feel paranoid and anxious,” Gilbert says. “It’s different from alcohol in that regard.”
“A glass of wine affects people differently, but within the same range,” Strong explains. “Some people can naturally tolerate 45 mg of edibles, and that’s their dose, having no prior experience, and other people need a dose of 2.5 mg. The range is so vast.”
Factory-made edibles won’t be available in Canada until the summer of 2019, but cannabis oil will be sold well before then.
“I came into this thinking: People who are consuming cannabis every day are people who are really into getting high, probably more likely to be the stoners and so forth,” Gilbert says. “But that’s not true.”