Any experienced user knows that cannabis can help boost your overall sense of wellbeing. But if our inbox is to be believed, “wellness” is the hottest new trend in cannabis products this season.
We’ve noticed a significant uptick in product releases touting new “wellness lines” of full-spectrum cannabis products—including joints, vape cartridges, edibles, infused beverages, and powdered drink mixes—designed to improve your energy, focus, mood, or sleep. Judging by their branding, packaging, and messaging, these products are clearly aimed at health-conscious, canna-curious Millennials.
For years, manufacturers have experimented with products designed to do more than just get you high, tweaking the ratios of different cannabinoids and terpenes to achieve specific desired effects. And a quick internet search turns up articles from as far back as 2015 proclaiming “cannabis+wellness” as a hot new trend.
So what’s actually new here?
The innovation seems to be at least as much in the marketing as in the products themselves. And that’s a good thing, according to Greg Wesner, CEO of Spoke Sciences, a Seattle-based cannabis product development firm.
As adult-use markets mature, brands need to devise new ways to grow their customer base beyond traditional cannabis consumers. “We have to get past the 80/20 rule,” says Wesner. That’s the belief in the industry that roughly 80% of all THC-bearing cannabis is consumed by just 20% of users. Those early adopters may have been critical to establishing new legal markets, Wesner says, “But there are only so many stoners in any given state.” To continue to grow, cannabis brands have to reach out to more casual and curious consumers.
Full-Spectrum products late to the wellness party
The earliest mentions of “cannabis+wellness” are about some dispensaries adding spa-like services, including exercise equipment and massages. The term really picked up speed in 2019, when the CBD industry went all-in on touting the wellness benefits of non-psychoactive cannabis products.
So why were adult-use products slower to jump on the wellness bandwagon? Two reasons: caution about regulatory backlash and market research.
First, says Wesner, adult-use manufacturers have had to exercise extreme caution around making any health claims in their marketing, so as not to draw the ire of federal regulators. The CBD market has proven that “soft wellness claims are a way to avoid problems with the FDA.”
Second, Wesner adds, “We’ve also seen the emergence of better market research from firms like the Brightfield Group, New Frontier Data and BDS Analytics. That has enabled marketers to get more sophisticated and targeted in their appeals to consumers.”
The new consumers those marketers are focused on with these new wellness products: health-conscious, canna-curious Millennials. Missing are any images of pot leaves or even the slightest whiff of stoner culture. Instead, their websites are clean and colorful, featuring young, mostly female hikers and yogis who look like they stepped out of an ad for Vitamin Water, Lululemon, or Apple.
Cannabis drinks dominate the wellness trend
Some of the most interesting new product innovation is happening in the cannabis beverage space. New techniques have come online recently that make it possible to break THC and other cannabinoid distillates into nanoparticles and encapsulate them in water-soluble emulsions. These encapsulated nanoparticles solve two problems that have dogged both cannabis edibles and drinkables for years: 1) They mask the telltale hashy taste of cannabinoids. 2) They enable sublingual absorption, shortening the onset of the THC’s psychoactive effects to as little as ten minutes (compared to the 30-45 minute onset with conventional edibles).
Here are a couple of beverage brands leading the wellness trend.
ebb – powdered drink mixes
The latest and clearest example of this new wellness-focused approach is ebb, a line of THC-infused dissolvable powdered drink mixes targeted at athletes, hikers, and younger millennials. Rolled out in early July at dispensaries across Colorado, ebb offers 4 SKUs, each with a different flavor combination and formulation: pure, pink lemonade, orange mango, and wildberry. Each product comes in an attractive pastel cardboard tube containing ten aluminum foil stick packs. Each stick pack sports a mix of flavor crystals, sweeteners, and other ingredients, plus 10 mg of THC encapsulated in a water-soluble modified starch emulsion. Think Crystal Lite or Emergen-C plus THC. In addition to the basic ingredients, each of ebb’s orange mango flavor sticks contains 1000 mg of vitamin C and says “Immunity Support” on the label. And the wildberry flavor is “electrolyte enhanced” to help “all of our doers out there” to refuel and rehydrate.
“We wanted to appeal to athletes as well as people who may have partied a little too hard the night before and want to rehydrate,” explains Brooks Allman, head of product at Platinum Brands. Even ebb’s Pure flavor has a wellness angle. In order to serve the diabetic and sugar-free market, says Allman, it contains erythritol, a sweetener that has 70% of the sweetness but only 6% of the calories of sugar. Ebb’s clever branding ticks all the boxes for its millennial target audience. Its products are made with all-natural vegan ingredients. Its packaging is decorated in soft pastel colors and is “100% sustainable.” And its website and social media posts feature attractive, mostly female, BIPOC models in yoga pants with hashtags like #ecofriendly, #sustainablepackaging, #upcycle, #feelgood, #sugarfree, #vegan, #keto, and #healthiswealth.
PHYX – THC-infused sparkling water
Another recent entry into the wellness beverage field is PHYX, a line of THC-infused sparkling water. Initially introduced to the Colorado market by vape cart maker Spherex in 2019, PHYX is aimed at aficionados of flavored sparkling waters like La Croix and Bubly who want to enjoy a mild psychoactive experience, but prefer to stay away from alcohol and avoid the “couch lock” that often comes with cannabis edibles. Available in four flavors – natural, grapefruit, lime, and dragonfruit – each containing a “microdose” of 2.5 mg THC and 2.5 mg of CBD, PHYX’s marketing has a similar look and feel to other wellness brands – clean, minimalist design, pastel colors, athletic female models, recyclable glass bottles. But its messaging leans more heavily on the science, trumpeting the benefits of microdosing water-soluble THC: “Zero cannabis taste, zero calories. Effects felt in 10 minutes. Duration 1 hour.” The fine print on PHYX’s website carefully explains that their claims about onset and duration are averages based on the company’s own market tests, and may vary widely for different users based on factors like age, weight, and gender.
Interestingly, PHYX may have been a little early with its 2019 entry to the market. “We found that initially the demographic of that canna-curious consumer was pretty small in this space,” says Katie Bajcar, marketing director at Spherex. “It’s obviously growing. People are looking towards more wellness brands. [But] the feedback was people did want it in a higher dose.” So in 2020, PHYX added a version of its Dragonfruit flavor with 10 mg of THC.
Next up for PHYX? Rolling out in California. “Colorado is a very seasonal market,” says Bajcar. “Summer is very hot, and then in the winter people aren’t necessarily looking for a cold refreshing beverage when it’s snowing outside. So we’re about to launch in California where it’s much more of a summer atmosphere all the time.”
Here’s some other wellness-focused brands and products that have caught our eye:
Cheeba Chews – THC for sleep and focus
Cheeba Chews was one of the first brands to get in on the wellness trend. In 2019, the Colorado-based edibles maker launched its Sleepy Time Chocolate Taffy. Each pack contains 20 chewable squares dosed with 5 mg of THC and 2.5 mg of CBN, plus a dash of melatonin. According to cofounder and marketing director Eric Leslie, Cheeba’s team was aware of the sleep-inducing effects of cannabinol (CBN) for years, but couldn’t get their hands on enough of it to use in a product.
“CBN is incredibly rare in nature,” Leslie said. That made it too expensive. But by 2018 “someone figured out how to produce CBN from CBD” in large quantities. Since launching the sleep aid, says Leslie, “It’s been a rocket ship for us, rising to the second or third most popular in every market.” In 2020, on the heels of that success, Cheeba Chews launched another wellness-focused product, the Trifecta Be Happy Taffy. “Trifecta” refers to the 1:1:1 ratio of THC, CBD and CBG. Each caramel chew contains 5 mg of each cannabinoid and is meant to induce a pleasant, more focused and energized state of mind.
FlowerShop* – A conceptual cannabis lifestyle brand
Launched in May by rapper G-Eazy and his friends Isaac Muwaswes and Gabe Garcia, FlowerShop* is one of the few new wellness brands offering actual smokeable herb. But this “conceptual wellness brand” is as much a line of high-end lifestyle accessories as it is an actual purveyor of weed. On the company’s website, you can order a “sensory carepack” for $75 that includes four joints in one of three award-winning strains, dubbed Joy (Super Lemon Haze), Comfort (Purple Double Deja Vu) or Smile (Willie’s Kush). These glass-tipped prerolls come in a beautifully-designed colorful package along with matching color-coordinated accessories including a silicone-coated lighter, washable silicone ashtray, and a tube of incense sticks “hand-crafted in Japan.” The products look like they would be more at home in a yoga studio or tea shop than a weed dispensary. FlowerShop* joints are currently available for delivery only in the Bay Area, while all other products are available for shipping worldwide. Halo Collective also plans to open three dispensaries in Los Angeles with the FlowerShop* concept and brand later this year.