Chronic pain continues to be the No. 1 reason patients register for medical marijuana cards. But the COVID-19 pandemic and a major recession forced many people to confront a host of new health and wellness challenges, which appears to have had an impact on cannabis use.
In particular, anecdotal evidence and a boom in cannabis sales over the past year suggest many more Americans are turning to the plant to deal with anxiety, stress and sleep issues.
“For the general population, the three main categories that you can break almost every product down to would be pain, anxiety and sleep. Those are the ones we hear all the time,” said Wendy Hull, CEO of Fairwinds, a cannabis products manufacturer based in Washington state.
“This past year has been very stressful for a lot of people. And a lot of people need these types of products,” Hull said. For example, Fairwinds formulated Release, a CBD product that comes in tinctures and vapes, which Hull described as Fairwinds’ anti-anxiety brand.
Dr. Kyle Kingsley, CEO of Minneapolis-based Vireo Health International, agrees that a growing number of patients are using cannabis because of sleep issues and anxiety and that marijuana businesses should respond accordingly.
“There is increased anxiety, increased insomnia,” Kingsley said. “I think cannabis is an interesting potential tool for some people in the time of COVID.”
To that end, Vireo developed a sleep aid and calming product last year called Moonlight, a combination of THC, CBD and CBN.
“It’s really formulated to address this need for people,” Kingsley said. “That’s really what we’re looking to do, is bring defined outcomes to people.”
Despite the substantial increase in the number of Americans with sleep and anxiety issues, many states don’t include insomnia as a qualifying medical condition. In the past year, regulators in Pennsylvania and Hawaii both rejected insomnia as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.
Qualifying conditions or not, patients are likely to bring up sleep and anxiety with budtenders, and cannabis business owners who want to serve patients and make a profit should be prepared.
For example, Dr. Karen Munkacy, an anesthesiologist and owner of medical/recreational marijuana retailer Garden Remedies in Massachusetts, noted that when consumers ask for a sleep aid, budtenders frequently suggest indica strains. That’s a good start, Munkacy said. But consumers should also be told that the effects of smokable flower last only a fraction as long as edibles.
“That means that, if you’re someone trying to sleep through the night, edibles are going to be much more effective,” Munkacy said.