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Survey Finds U.S. Cannabis Consumers Don’t Understand Cannabis

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We regulate it, we sell it, but we need to do more to ensure users understand the plant they love.


For decades, the only education Americans got about cannabis was fear mongering courtesy of the D.A.R.E. program. That’s changed in recent years.

Today, a majority of the United States is home to either recreational or medical marijuana markets of some kind. Along with new laws and legal channels, an onslaught of new products featuring cannabis in a multitude of forms has put the onus on consumers to know what they’re getting into. However, according to a new report from cannabis data firm Oasis Intelligence, the problems are even more rudimentary than that.

In a survey of 20,000 Americans in all 50 states (plus Washington DC), Oasis researchers found that “approximately 75% of people are unfamiliar with the terms entourage effect, endocannabinoid system, and terpenes.” For all the ink those concepts have earned in pot-focused publications, it’s somewhat shocking to realize that, for the vast majority of the U.S., the terms might as well be gibberish.

This new report from Oasis Intelligence arrives in tandem with an unrelated study that casts doubt on the longstanding belief that more THC equates to a stronger high. Just as consumers continue to seek out the strongest product instead of the one that might actually work best, we now know that part of the reason for this is a simple lack of education.

There’s no elitism or snobbishness at play in this assessment. No one needs to be a sommelier to buy a bottle of wine, but understanding what alcohol does to one’s body feels like a fair prerequisite, no? That’s why knowing about something like the “entourage effect” — a belief that cannabinoids work better in tandem than as isolates — is far more than a fun fact.

An appreciation of this concept may lead a consumer to opt for a full-spectrum option, which in turn may engage one’s entire internal endocannabinoid system. In fact, Oasis Intelligence found that most folks hadn’t heard of the endocannabinoid system either. This is especially concerning, given it is literally a part of our bodies.

Perhaps the toughest toke to swallow is the revelation that consumers still don’t know what terpenes are, either. Terpenes are the aromatic oils that distinguish cannabis varietals, so if you’ve ever shopped for weed with your nose, you were using terpenes as your guide. So far, over 100 unique terpenes have been identified within the cannabis plant. In addition to being responsible for determining how a given batch of bud will smell, growing evidence suggests that terpenes may also shape the psychoactive effects of cannabis strains.

Taken together, these are three giant pieces of the cannabis puzzle that the majority of the U.S. apparently knows nothing about.

As Oasis Intelligence co-founder Ben Woo explained in an email to Bloom & Oil, getting the public excited to learn about science — even when it’s weed science — is no easy task.

“Admittedly, it’s tough,” Woo acknowledged. “Chemistry was practically nobody’s favorite subject in high school. People ask their friends about it, but who knows if they’re right. They learn in dispensaries, but those experiences can be rushed and focused on purchasing, not learning. People want to learn via YouTube, but the platform makes compliance tricky.”

At a glance, the issue appears to be a lack of defined responsibility. Looking to California specifically, no widespread efforts to educate consumers were required as a result of the passage of Proposition 64. That bill set the stage for a statewide recreational market to begin in 2018. Whether it was a shortage of time, interest, or both, legal weed hit the Golden State with a “figure it out for yourself” approach.

If the government is content to let the brands, advocates, and community enterprises lead the way on pot education, Woo suggests pot companies could thrive by following in the footsteps of sports drink giant Gatorade.

“When Gatorade was purchased by Quaker Oats in the 80s,” Woo said, “they had a big task — grow the nascent category of sports drinks. Their marketing focused on education – what electrolytes are, what they do, and how you benefit from them.”

By turning their marketing campaign into an educational opportunity, Gatorade became synonymous with the very thing they helped consumers to learn about: electrolytes. The brand now has 75% of today’s sports drink market. Could something similar be a golden plan for cannabis?

Woo certainly thinks so.

“The industry players who do crack this code will be handsomely rewarded,” he concurs. “[They’ll get] consumer trust, customer loyalty, and brand equity.”

Sounds like a smart approach.

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