Education Remains The Biggest Challenge For Canadian Cannabis Businesses

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By Matt Gray, CEO of Herb.

The one-year anniversary of legal Canadian cannabis is just around the corner, and the country plans to celebrate in a big way. On October 17th of 2018, Health Canada lifts the legislative floodgates for the production of edibles, concentrates, and topicals. 

New products, however, come with new responsibilities. Of these, one challenge remains omnipresent—how do you effectively teach mass audiences about cannabis?

To answer this big question, cannabis businesses must innovate. And they’re doing just that. 

Herb, a learning platform and smart app technology, is one example. The App connects consumers with customized recommendations for cannabis products and information, filling an education gap that’s lasted for nearly 100 years. 

As with many cannabis companies, when Herb launched in 2014, there was very little information on the cannabis plant available. 

Looking for information on individual cannabis brands or products? Forget about it. 

Decades of prohibition meant that brands struggled to establish themselves. The few available products were produced in a quasi-illicit environment. Consumers fared the worst during this period, with few places to go to find even the most basic ingredient lists or brand descriptions for the products they were purchasing. 

In the time since, the cannabis landscape has changed dramatically. 

For the first time in history, cannabis-infused foods, lotions, and vaporization products are proliferating into large-scale markets with full support from a G7 country.

But, there’s still work to be done. 

With centerstage attention, brands now face the daunting task of transforming our relationship with cannabis into one as familiar as coffee or wine. 

Fortunately, creativity knows no bounds. 

The Cannabis Education Gap

Canada, along with Mexico, was one of the first countries to outlaw cannabis. Legislators introduced prohibition policies in 1923, well ahead of the U.S.

Prohibition continued for nearly a century, meaning that many Canadians lived entire life spans without access to sound information about the plant, let alone specific cannabis products.  

This education gap persists today. 

With such a long history of silence and misinformation, it’s not surprising that there have been mishaps. Most recently, an epidemic of illness related to vapor cartridges plagued emergency rooms in the United States. 

For doctors, a lack of knowledge about the ingredients of these vapor cartridges and what a patient actually consumed remains one of the primary hindrances to proper treatment. 

For the general public, a lack of basic understanding of the effects of the plant can contribute to negative experiences. 

Edible cannabis, for example, is processed differently by the human body. As a result, oral cannabis products often deliver stronger experiences and are more likely to cause uncomfortable side effects when used improperly. 

It’s now the responsibility of brands and industry professionals to get this information across to these new consumers. 

Restrictions on product packaging make the education process even harder. Advertising regulations, which are in place to ensure consumer safety, may have the unintentional side effect of making it more challenging for consumers to understand the meaning of what’s listed on a product label.

Product labels include cannabinoid content, cannabis type, and other vital information on when the product was processed. 

Labels cannot, however, provide information on what these unusual terms mean. Nor can product labels indicate how the cannabis was grown or the potential strength of the product—all vital information for a nation partaking in legal cannabis for the first time.

New Consumers Come To Market

Cannabis 2.0 brings a wave of new products to the market, and in more familiar forms.

Iconic pre-roll and dried cannabis flower will remain classic choices for curious and enthusiastic consumers alike. But, sweet treats, lotions, and convenient vaporization devices spark excitement in new consumers. 

Indeed, a recent consumer report from Deloitte, which analyzed survey data from 2,000 adults, found that 59 percent likely cannabis consumers were interested in edibles. For beverages and topicals, the numbers come in at 37 and 54 percent, respectively. 

This is a stark climb from the respective eight, three, and seven percent for current consumers, who are younger and consume cannabis more frequently. 

Cannabis 2.0 comes with new products. But, it also comes with a wealth of casual and cannabis-naive consumers that require more information about the plant.

New consumers are more likely to have a negative experience with cannabis edibles and concentrates, which will be among the strongest cannabis products on the market. In 2014, the year Colorado legalized adult use, cannabis-related emergency room visits increased by 67 percent. Most of these visits were related to edible cannabis.
Safety challenges like these can be addressed with easy access to education. 

Novel Solutions To Education Challenges 

Access to basic information about brands is invaluable. The pressure is on cannabis businesses to responsibly teach new consumers about the products they are purchasing. 

Fortunately, many cannabis businesses are stepping up to the plate. 

Already, several brands have abandoned strain names in exchange for titles that better describe the mood or function of a cannabis product. AltaVie’s “Airplane Mode” or Cove’s “Rise” are excellent examples. 

Without access to cannabis education in schools, the door is open for online academies to fill the training gap for industry professionals. 

Cannabis brands throughout Canada are tackling the education challenge in a variety of innovative ways. More and more, brands are investing in immersive website design that engages consumers in cannabis in an interactive way. 

Haven St., a vertical from TerrAscend Corp (OTC: TRSSF), offers an excellent example. The brand organizes innovative web design to organize their cannabis selections into city blocks. The engaging design invites consumers to explore different cannabis varieties, eliminating unfamiliar language and making the learning experience seamless and enjoyable. 

In this environment, third-party databases and information platforms are essential tools to bridge the gap between brand and consumer. Database technologies that offer smart product recognition, like the Herb App, make connecting consumers and brands even easier. 

Cannabis businesses face an uphill battle in the area of education. Continuing to innovate to meet education challenges is part of the everyday hustle for the cannabis industry. And, by the looks of things, it will remain a challenge for some time. 

Moving into cannabis 2.0, successful cannabis brands will recognize one vital truth: the easier it is to access quality information, the better. 

Images courtesy of Herb.

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.

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