By / June 6, 2023

2023 Cannabis Trends – How Are Cannabis Consumers Evolving?

It is no secret that achieving success in the cannabis industry is challenging. High entry barriers, costly licenses, and overly restrictive regulations have posed significant challenges for those attempting to succeed. One of the best ways to meet these challenges is by tracking trends related to cannabis products, the industry, and consumers.

The legacy of prohibition impacts all of these areas, and analyzing industry trends in this context is necessary. The Cannabis Trends 2023 report published by New Frontiers Data not only reviews trends in the cannabis industry but also seeks to educate industry professionals about the impact of prohibition on these trends. By understanding where we come from, we can adopt the right strategy and effectively move forward.

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Cannabis Trends — Products

Years of cannabis prohibition have created a “feast or famine” mentality among consumers and a desire to stick to what they know. Historically, buying cannabis on the black market meant purchasing flowers, and concerns about availability meant that higher potency was considered the best. After all, the risk of obtaining an illegal product and spending time and money on flower that wasn’t consistently available led consumers to seek the strongest cannabis strains to save money.

As a result, higher THC strains were preferred by growers and sellers because they commanded higher prices in the market. CBD-rich cannabis would be classified as lower quality and have a lower price, and therefore were almost eliminated. And while legalization removed criminal penalties and allowed consumers safe and legal access to cannabis, the early years of legalization showed that old habits die hard.

High THC content was still associated with high quality, and flowers remained the primary form of cannabis products purchased by consumers. However, as people begin to relax in the new reality of legal cannabis, and companies develop more advanced products to meet specific needs, we are witnessing the emergence of two trends: the evolution of preferred forms beyond flowers and the growing popularity of lower THC concentration products.

Cannabis Trends — Consumers

A study from 2008 conducted on 350 medical cannabis patients revealed that 53% of them used cannabis as a substitute for alcohol. And 15 years later, in a New Frontier Data Consumer study conducted on nearly 4,000 current consumers, 57% of them reported replacing at least part of their alcohol consumption with cannabis. This was more pronounced among younger consumers, with 66% of individuals aged 25-34 using cannabis as a substitute for alcohol.

Substituting Alcohol with Cannabis

According to a recent Berenberg Research report, Generation Z consumes 20% less alcohol than millennials did at their age. And according to our data, they are the most frequent cannabis consumers, with 44.1% reporting daily usage. Younger consumers are the least likely to engage in daily alcohol consumption and are more likely than those aged 25-44 to claim they never drink. Additionally, the most common drinking pattern among all age groups is drinking several times a week, except for individuals aged 18-24, who most commonly report drinking several times a month.

Substituting alcohol with cannabis is prevalent across all age groups. Overall, 56.8% of consumers claim to have replaced at least part of their alcohol consumption with cannabis. Non-alcoholic beers are a rapidly growing segment in the alternative alcohol market, and cannabis-infused beverages are emerging alongside them. Transactions in dispensaries involving beverages steadily increased between January 2020 and March 2023.

Further bolstering interest in alternatives to alcohol, a recent World Health Organization report states that there is no “safe” level of alcohol consumption, challenging previous claims that moderate drinking can have health benefits. For consumers who wish to avoid alcohol but still enjoy an altered state of consciousness, cannabis-infused beverages can be a good choice.

Cannabis-Infused Beverages

However, early cannabis-infused beverages had a duration of action similar to edible products and faced issues with taste and proper dosage. The development of the industry has taken THC-infused beverages to a higher level, making them a real alternative to alcohol. Firstly, in order to realistically replace alcohol, cannabis-infused beverages had to address the issue of delayed onset. The onset of effects occurring 1-2 hours later, as seen with THC-infused edibles, made beverages unappealing in social situations where alcohol was also served.

However, the introduction of nanoemulsion technology, in which cannabinoids are reduced to sizes small enough for rapid absorption into the bloodstream, has lowered the onset time from 1-2 hours to 10-15 minutes. This allows consumers to consume their dose in a manner they are accustomed to from their alcohol experiences. Secondly, they taste better. Cannabis oil can leave a bitter taste that was unappealing to many consumers. Today’s beverages feature unique and interesting flavor profiles that better mask bitterness.

Finally, cannabis trends in the beverage market have adapted to consumers. In many early beverages, attempts were made to cram enough THC into a bottle to satisfy heavy consumers. While cans and bottles containing 100 mg of THC can still be found, more frequently, higher-dose products take the form of flavored shots and additives that allow the consumer to craft their own potent beverage. Most newer cannabis-infused beverages are leaning towards lower doses.

For cannabis as a substitute for alcohol, low dosage makes sense for many consumers, as they may want to consume two or three beverages during an event, which, at 5-10 mg of THC per serving, provides a pleasant and controllable experience. Furthermore, with the rise of cannabis consumption in hotels and consumer-friendly establishments, beverages offer an enjoyable and interesting way to deliver THC without smoking and without the risk associated with edibles, which, due to delayed onset, are more likely to cause an overdose in inexperienced consumers.

Consumer Trends in New Cannabinoids

In discussions about cannabinoids, THC and CBD used to dominate the conversation. Indeed, they are the two most prevalent cannabinoids found in cannabis. However, there are over 90 cannabinoids (and counting!) that occur in smaller quantities, including THCV, CBDV, CBC, CBG, and CBN. And while research on the potential benefits of these novel cannabinoids is still in its early stages, brands and consumers are intrigued, and more products are incorporating these compounds into their formulations.

The presence of terpenes and novel cannabinoids can enhance certain effects of cannabis and provide consumers with a better sense of what to expect. With increasingly advanced laboratory testing, labels featuring terpene profiles and cannabinoid content have become more commonplace.

Interest in lesser-known cannabinoids and terpenes was highest among individuals aged 25-44 and among men. Interestingly, this age group was also the most likely to say that these factors were not important to them. Younger consumers aged 18-24 were less likely to say that these factors influenced their decision, but they were the most likely to at least want to know what a lesser-known cannabinoid or terpene is and the most likely to say they have access to that information.

Knowledge about cannabinoids derived from cannabis, such as Delta-8 THC, THC-O, and THCP, was most widespread among younger consumers and men. Knowledge about lesser-known cannabinoids like THCV, THCA, CBC, and others was highest among individuals aged 25-44 and among men. This age group of 25-44 was also the most likely to report that these compounds are important in their purchasing decisions.

This may be due to the fact that this age group is more willing to try new products compared to older age groups. It is worth noting that very few consumers in different age groups have not heard of any of the mentioned compounds. Knowledge about cannabinoids derived from cannabis was highest in illicit markets where access to regulated cannabis products does not exist.

Nearly 60% of consumers in illicit markets have heard of Delta-8 THC, compared to 52.5% in strictly medical markets and 42.2% in adult-use markets. Individuals in strictly medical markets were the most likely to be familiar with lesser-known non-psychoactive cannabinoids such as CBC, CBG, and CBDV.

These patterns generally hold true for both consumers and non-consumers. The number of transactions involving products containing lesser-known cannabinoids has been increasing since 2020. The most significant growth can be observed in products containing CBN. Although research is still in its early stages, CBN has gained a reputation as a sleep-supportive compound and has started appearing in sleep-promoting products. This indicates a consumer desire for products that deliver specific effects. We are also seeing an increase in the number of products with lesser-known cannabinoids being sold in dispensaries. In addition to CBN, we are witnessing the emergence of CBG and THCV, with the latter being promoted as an appetite suppressant (again, research in this area is still developing).

2023 Cannabis Trends – Summary

To summarize the key 2023 cannabis trends, here is how different markets are evolving.

  • Cannabis as an industrial raw material: Cannabis is increasingly being used as an industrial raw material. In 2023, cannabis was utilized for the production of various products such as clothing, paper, plastics, building materials, and many more.
  • Cannabis in medicine: Cannabis is increasingly being used in medicine. In 2023, cannabis was most commonly utilized for treating various conditions such as pain, stress, insomnia, and for improving overall well-being.
  • Cannabis in food: Cannabis is increasingly being used in food. In 2023, cannabis was used for the production of various food products such as oils, beverages, snacks, and many more.
  • Cannabis in cosmetics: Cannabis is increasingly being used in cosmetics. In 2023, cannabis was utilized for the production of various cosmetic products such as creams, balms, oils, and many more.
  • Cannabis in the alcohol industry: Cannabis is increasingly being used in the alcohol industry. In 2023, cannabis was utilized for the production of various alcoholic products such as beer, wine, liquors, and many more.
  • Cannabis in the tobacco industry: Cannabis is increasingly being used in the tobacco industry. In 2023, cannabis was utilized for the production of various tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and many more.
  • Cannabis in the sports industry: Cannabis is increasingly being used in the sports industry. In 2023, cannabis was utilized for the production of various sports products such as clothing, equipment, supplements, and many more.
  • Cannabis in the animal industry: Cannabis is increasingly being used in the animal industry. In 2023, cannabis was utilized for the production of various products for animals such as pet food, supplements, toys, and many more.

You can obtain the full report here.

(Featured illustration by Kindel Media via Pexels)

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