With increasing access to medical and recreational cannabis across the United States, the face of cannabis users is undergoing a rapid transformation. The notion of the traditional stoner is shrinking; Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Brad Pitt’s couch-bound character in True Romance are now only a microcosm of the current demographic. So who are the new users? More importantly, who are the next ones? And what will drive the proliferation of this product? The answers to these questions are complex and varied, but they are also the key to growing this rapidly emerging industry from a multi-billion dollar business to a multi-trillion dollar ecosystem of products that center around a new lifestyle and way of being.
Let’s focus on recreational use, though the line between medical and recreational marijuana can often overlap – and, admittedly, the overlap is a key point to its potential growth. But for now, we’ll focus on what can drive the mainstream and self-directed use of a variety of cannabis-related products. While the industry is seeing rapid growth in its current form, to expand beyond the initial excitement requires a deeper understanding of who is consuming, why they’re consuming, and how a system of products can fit into their lives. It’s also about harnessing this understanding to help shape the benefits of cannabis use.
We can all agree that the pace of the world is rapidly accelerating. We are all constantly exposed to a vast amount of information, and are expected to do more all the time. This extends to our work as well as our social lives. The increased level of digital interconnectivity has brought with it a constant and continuous underlying stress, causing people to feel torn, fragmented, and overwhelmed.
The popularization of yoga, meditation, and a variety of Eastern healing modalities are a clear indication that we, as a society, are searching for alternatives. Yet, many of us are living with an increasing level of stress that builds and grows, demanding that our tolerance to carry this load continually increases until the bottom drops out and we’re forced to slow down. As the data shows, women are suffering from this even more than men.
The US Office on Women’s Health explains how “anxiety is a normal response to stress. But when it becomes hard to control and affects your day-to-day life, it can be disabling. Anxiety affects nearly one in five adults in the United States. [And] women are more than twice as likely as men to get an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.” So how are people coping? What steps are they taking to keep a rudimentary experience of anxiety from becoming a disorder, and why are women experiencing this more than men?
The full answer to why women experience more stress is beyond the scope of this conversation, but Daniel and Jason Freeman, authors of The Stressed Sex, wrote an op-ed explaining the heart of it: “Considering that, on the whole, women are paid less, find it harder to advance in a career, have to juggle multiple roles,and are bombarded with images of apparent female ‘perfection,’ it would be amazing if there wasn’t some emotional cost.”
The Telegraph published an article titled “Anxiety: the epidemic sweeping through Generation Y,” and the national Center for Biotechnology information explained how “autoimmune diseases affect 8% of the population, 78% of whom are women.” While there is often no known cause for autoimmune diseases, many approaches to these conditions focus on stress reduction, stress management, and increased body awareness. But many who attempt to preemptively manage their stress, or those who are forced to do so because their body begins to break down, often find the attempt to achieve balance a struggle that requires a great deal of time and financial resources.
With the effects of use described as relaxing, calming, mentally stimulating, creatively enhancing, and pain reducing, cannabis can be positioned as a strategic offering for stress reduction. For a period of time, cannabis use can reset a user’s stress baseline. It can also help users gain perspective on their stress, something that is often difficult to do while in the frays.
But selling stress relief isn’t sexy. It’s also vague and passive. The greater opportunity will come from the advancement of cannabis as a tool for self-awareness and reflection. A tool for living “Better” – the notion of Better with a capital B as a state of being, to be defined and customized and sold as an antidote to the stress of modern life.
The company that can understand how to define Better, and build an ecosystem of products around this, will not only capture the female demographic, but they will transition cannabis use into a lifestyle where excessive stress is no longer seen as an inevitability, but an antiquated way of being that is no longer accepted in chronic doses.
And, as the new face of use continues to be defined, the old social stigma around cannabis – the image of the stoner, the notion of being lazy, the association with the underachiever – is being replaced by the caring mother, the taxpayer, the responsible employee, the creative professional, and the entrepreneur.
Currently, women are leading the charge toward full legalization. As The Atlantic wrote, “Activist women in organizations like the NORML Women’s Alliance, Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse (MAMA), and Moms for Marijuana International not only support women’s marijuana use, but they’re also working to challenge drug laws that they feel unduly harm pot users while leaving violent criminals out on the streets.”
Women Grow, Women of Weed, Stiletto Stoners, and Cheryl Shuman (founder of the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club), among many others, are redefining the category. Women consume cannabis differently, for different reasons, and have a unique consumption aesthetic. With this in mind, many entrepreneurial organizations are putting women on the front lines of developing cannabis products and businesses.
The old stoner culture that celebrated the psychoactive properties of the plant and embraced a level of escapism and heavy sedation is not congruent with this new demographic. The outlaw mentality is outdated. As Bloomberg explains, “Winning over women will require more than just churning out pink bongs. Women use marijuana differently, often preferring alternatives to lighting up joints.”
As cannabis culture continues to grow, an entire generation of users will have a relationship with cannabis products who may have never even smoked the plant. Delivery mechanisms will be reimagined, and the opportunity to develop entire ecosystems of CPG-type offerings will explode.
Likewise, companies will develop products with a variety of different value propositions – from budget conscious consumers, to celebrity-inspired goods, to brands that look to Gucci and Tiffany & Co. for inspiration. For many, living Better will change consumption from a utilitarian process to a luxury activity. They’ll embrace stress relief and relaxation as a reward for working hard. it will become a modern privilege through unique strain engineering and specialty products – while mainstream cannabis coffees,
teas, butters, spreads, lotions, and more will democratize relaxation to the masses.
Beyond products, a lifestyle will develop. As people come out of the cannabis closet, they feel a sense of connection to others that they have long missed by having to keep their use a secret. The Atlantic stated how “there’s an air of cognitive dissonance about it, that a woman, especially a nurturing, professional woman, could both smoke pot and not be Jim Breuer in Half Baked was, to many, a revelation.” Companies have to seize the opportunity to foster this connection and newfound freedom.
It’s not about developing the Starbucks of weed – the goal of every cannabis entrepreneur these days. It’s about building a relationship with consumers that relates to their overall health, and how everything they want to achieve in their life can be tied back to their ability to withstand stress.
Chronic stress not only taxes the body; it taxes the mind. When companies can refuel a consumer’s drive to keep going, they begin to offer real value.
The caveat here is that cannabis isn’t the cure to solve all of the world’s problems. There are downsides and drawbacks. But the current model of generations of chronically stressed people is also not sustainable, and cannabis could very well be the release valve. The company that can start with cannabis and evolve into a holistic approach into providing solutions to simplify and de-stress life – from food, to clothing, to life management and beyond – will truly differentiate themselves from competitors.
And we’ll all be Better for it.