The potential for managing health and wellness with cannabis could increase its appeal among U.S. adults as legalization continues, suggests new research from Mintel.

Interest in cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD) is linked to the products’ perceived health benefits, with U.S. adults reporting relaxation (67 percent), stress relief (60 percent) and improved sleep (50 percent) as their leading reasons for use in any format. Three-fifths (61 percent) of cannabis users, in states where recreational cannabis is legal, report at least some focus on health as a driver for use.

In states where it is legal to purchase cannabis for recreational purposes, consumer usage of over-the-counter (OTC) medication is lower compared to states where a medical card is necessary to purchase cannabis. In the past three months, half (52 percent) of consumers living in states where recreational consumption is legal have used OTC medication compared to 62 percent of consumers who live in medical-only states. 

“Recreational and medical cannabis usage is currently inhibited by numerous factors, but as awareness, interest and legalization grow, so will cannabis’ role in managing common ailments and mental health conditions, impacting mainstream OTC health products,” said Andrea Wroble, health & wellness analyst, Mintel. “The recognition of cannabis’ medicinal benefits is positively influencing consumer perceptions, allowing the cannabis industry to shift from being viewed as an illicit drug to a viable treatment option for health management.”

Cannabis’ effect on the OTC medication market

When it comes to treatment solutions, the OTC medication aisle provides few options tailored to stress or anxiety. According to Mintel research, in both medical-only and recreationally legal states, consumers are more willing to consider cannabis over traditional OTC medications for mental health conditions. In medical-use-only states, 41 percent would consider treating or managing any mental health condition with cannabis, while 39 percent would consider CBD-only products.

Meanwhile, seven out of 10 (68 percent) consumers struggle to fall or stay asleep, and more than two-fifths (42 percent) say that OTC sleep aids are not a healthy way to fall asleep, opening the door for alternative treatment options. More than half (56 percent) of consumers in recreationally legal states and 58 percent in medical-only states say they would use cannabis instead of OTC sleep aids to help them fall asleep.

“Compared to states where cannabis is only legal for medical use, adults in recreationally legal states have easier access to cannabis as a treatment option, shifting reliance away from OTC products to manage symptoms from stress, anxiety or burnout to assisting with falling or staying asleep,” Wroble said. “Our research also shows that in medical-only states and recreationally legal states, consumers say OTC medications cause unwanted side effects, further positioning the plant as a natural alternative for everyday treatment.”

Professional guidance legitimizes cannabis in health and wellness

While interest is substantial, there is still more education needed to substantiate cannabis as a medical treatment option. Around one in five consumers in both recreationally legal states (19 percent) and medical-only states (22 percent) say they don’t know much about cannabis. 

Education must start with credible resources, such as industry or health professionals; 42 percent of adults in medically legal states and 37 percent of adults in recreationally legal states say a recommendation from a medical professional would enhance their consideration of using cannabis as a medical treatment. That said, Mintel research reveals that less than a tenth (9 percent) in both recreational and medical-only states have talked about cannabis with a doctor or pharmacist. 

“There is a significant information gap in the cannabis industry,” Wroble said. “Consumers see the plant’s potential in health and wellness but are relying on word-of-mouth to educate themselves and guide their decision-making process because they are unsure of where to turn for expert advice. To mitigate confusion, the cannabis market must establish a network of trustworthy professional resources for consumers to learn from.

“Consumers who use cannabis for both health and recreational reasons comprise the majority of the cannabis user base in the US; as such, brands focusing on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing as primary purchase drivers will gain mainstream appeal. Establishing clinical evidence and safe usage practices will be crucial to legitimizing cannabis and moving the needle as an accessible treatment solution.”

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