Many cannabis enthusiasts turn to the plant for THC, but as some consumers have learned — including those who favor edibles — there are plenty of potential benefits.
Whether it’s sleep support, relaxation, focus, exercise recovery or physical intimacy, these effects are often driven by minor cannabinoids and their combination with THC and terpenes. Joe Hodas, chief marketing officer, Wana Brands, also pointed to their novelty.
“The cannabis consumer does like to experiment,” he said. “That's inherent in their nature. When you are able to market a new cannabinoid as a feature within a product, that will indicate to the consumer what it is, and then secondarily, probably piques their interest because they'll say ‘I haven't had that before.’”
Motivated by market interest and functionality, edibles brands and manufacturers are building on customer feedback and cannabinoid research to develop products tailored for desired mood or need states.
An evolution in positioning
The way cannabis brands have positioned their products has evolved, Hodas said. In the early days, simply providing a cannabis product was enough, but over time, manufacturers have found ways to differentiate their offerings.
Hodas, who also served at Dixie Brands, said creating high-quality packaging initially helped draw in customers, but they soon began asking for the strain identifiers of sativa, indica and hybrid, which have been presumed to suggest effects those strains could have on consumers.
“The truth of the matter was it's what the budtenders and the consumers demanded,” he said. “It wasn't a question for us about the products as much as it was answering the market’s need to understand.”
Buck Dutton, vice president of marketing, Native Roots, also noted dispensary customers would use the terms “sativa” and “indica” to seek out specific effects.
“As we were classifying our products, we realized the market itself was changing and we needed to evolve with it,” Dutton said. “This whole system of indica-sativa-hybrid dates back to the 1800s, and it was originally designed to describe the shape of a plant. Somehow we started classifying that indica was ‘in-da-couch', and that’s not the case — sometimes yes. What we started realizing was that when people come in and they were shopping for an indica, they didn’t care about the shape of the plant, per se, they were shopping on how that was going to make them feel.”
In the last two to three years, brands have progressed to offering products designed for specific mood or need cases. BDSA recently reported a 16% increase in the quantity of mood- and effect-positioned edibles in retail from the first quarter of 2021 to the second quarter of 2023. Additionally, edibles featuring the minor cannabinoids cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabinol (CBN) generated 173% growth in dollar share in the edibles category.
Nonetheless, Hodas cautioned there is a difference between marketing products for certain effects and developing them with a target in mind.
“(Wana has) taken that and turned it on its head a little bit by formulating products that are use-case designed from scratch,” Hodas said. “These are not existing products that we're putting a different wrapper around. These are products that we have developed based on our science, our research and understanding of emerging categories of minor cannabinoids and terpene interaction.”
Minor cannabinoids, major benefits
Recreation and achieving a high are significant drivers for consumption, but manufacturers and brand owners have dialed in on consumers’ other uses for cannabis. Meanwhile, research into minor cannabinoids — and their potential to serve specific mood and need cases — has also informed recent product development.
Wana Brands introduced its Optimals line in 2021, which features SKUs with minor cannabinoids and botanical ingredients that are tailored to delivering calm and supporting sleep.
Hodas noted sleep is among the most critical concerns American adults face. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2020 that nearly a third of all U.S. adults say they receive less than 7 hours per night. Furthermore, the National Sleep Foundation reported in June that the percentage of U.S. adults who sleep less than 7 hours per night increased from 45% in 2021 to 63% in 2022.
“We know that sleep really is an issue for people,” he said. “It leads to, in some cases, earlier deaths. It leads to unhappiness. There are all kinds of bad side effects of not getting good sleep. Our goal at the corporate level is to enhance people's lives — that's our mission and our focus. Optimals is a subset of that. We do that by helping you with your optimal health levels.”
Wana Brands subdivided the concern of sleep into two occasions — falling asleep and staying asleep — and developed gummy offerings for each one based on the company’s own research. The Optimals Fast Asleep gummies have an onset of 5-15 minutes and feature 10 mg CBD, 2 mg CBN, 2 mg CBG, 2 mg THC and 1 mg of melatonin per piece. The Optimals Stay Asleep gummies have a slower release and feature 10 mg THC, 20 mg CBD, 5 mg CBN and 5 mg CBG per piece.
Earlier this year, Wana Brands introduced gummies with a 1:1:1 ratio of CBG, CBD and THC. While not designed for a specific effect, they’re intended to provide a relaxing yet uplifting experience, Hodas said.
SLANG Worldwide also considered consumer data and current understanding of minor cannabinoids while developing its Alchemy Naturals gummy line, said Brittany Hallett, executive vice president of marketing. Data revealed that women and consumers over 40 overindexed on the edibles category, potentially indicating a wellness-based purchase motivator.
“We went into it knowing that we wanted to do an effect-based line, and we knew that we wanted to utilize minor cannabinoids based off of the data that we saw,” she said. “We also knew that we wanted to use adaptogens or functional ingredients to help create that layered effect and help ensure that a consumer was going to get that intended effect that they were hoping for.”
SLANG’s Alchemy Naturals THC line features formulations with four intended effects:
- Sleep: Featuring a Pomegranate Blueberry flavor, each piece has 10 mg THC, 5 mg CBN, 5 mg CBD and 20 mg of passionflower.
- Relief: Featuring a Ginger Mango flavor, each piece has 10 mg THC, 10 mg CBG, 10 mg CBD and 10 mg of ginger.
- De-stress: Featuring a Peach Hibiscus flavor, each piece has 10 mg THC, 10 mg CBD and 50 mg of reishi mushroom.
- Intimacy: Featuring a Cranberry Orange flavor, each piece has 10 mg THC and 20 mg maca root.
Hallett added SLANG is exploring new flavors for its existing effects, as well as new mood and use cases.
‘How do you want to feel?’
While developing a new classification system for its products, Native Roots turned to its employees. The Colorado-based cultivator, extractor and retailer asked 125 employees across divisions to smoke certain cannabis strains and describe how it made them feel.
The result was Native Roots’ Mood State Matrix, which identifies five mood or need states that consumers may seek, including Sleepy, Relaxed, Focus, Uplifted and Energetic. On the sativa-indica spectrum, Dutton said they could correspond respectively as indica, indica-hybrid, hybrid, sativa-hybrid and sativa, but it’s not a perfect fit.
However, having predefined categories based on experience allows Native Roots budtenders to create a baseline when communicating with customers about how they want to feel.
“How do you want to feel?” Dutton asked. “If you want to feel energetic or you want to feel relaxed, that helps us guide the conversation – these are the strains that fit into this category based on our deep-dive research we’ve been compiling for years.”
Dutton added Native Roots is exploring merchandising products in store by the matrix, meaning edibles, flower and pre-rolls would be grouped by each feeling or use case. Additionally, Native Roots planned to host a brand-led popup around sleep products the weekend of Daylight Savings Time.
Though consumers have individual needs — and unique experiences with cannabis — Dutton noted the Mood State Matrix helps Native Roots keep its bases covered.
“There are always going to be micro mood states from person to person, but I think our five encapsulate everything that we’ve been trying to do here,” Dutton said.
Other product innovations
Over the last year, several edibles brands across categories have introduced products for varying mood or need cases.
In February, the Cannabist Company, formerly known as Columbia Care, launched PRESS 2.0 hard-pressed tablets aligning with morning, midday and evening dayparts. The line features Rise, with CBG, green tea extract, turmeric and vitamin C; Rally, with CBG, turmeric and vitamin B12; and Doze with CBD and magnesium.
Jesse Channon, chief commercial officer, noted the company chose the effects based on consumer feedback and the tablet format for its familiarity and ease of use and manufacturing.
“We felt like they were a logical evolution of a discrete, very mainstream way to integrate into your lifestyle,” he said.
Huxleys, a California brand, debuted a line of gummies and capsules featuring minor cannabinoids and terpenes in August. It features four formulations for sleep, energy, happiness and intimacy with combinations of THC, CBG, CBN, CBD and THCV.
Last fall, MariMed Inc. revamped its line Betty’s Eddies fruit chews, which features SKUs intended for sleep, pain relief, relaxation, intimacy and energy. The options include:
- Bedtime Betty’s: A new recipe infuses a blend of THC, CBN, and CBD into a Raspberry Creme chew. It joins the original Bedtime Betty’s recipe, which infuses full-spectrum cannabis and melatonin into a Lemon Agave chew.
- Ache Away Eddies: This Very Cherry chew is infused with THC, CBD and CBC, as well as turmeric, piperine, and vitamin E.
- Take It Easy Eddies: Infused with THC, CBDV, CBG, passionflower, chamomile and L-theanine, this Pineapple Orange chew may help consumers reach a relaxed, stress-free state-of-mind.
- Smashin’ Passion: Infused with full-spectrum cannabis, horny goat weed, muira puama, damiana and maca root, this Passion fruit chew may help increase libido.
- Go Betty Go: This Watermelon chew is infused with L-theanine, natural caffeine from coffee, THC and THCV to increase energy.
- Elderbetty: CBD and THC are now added to a recipe that includes elderberry, zinc, Vitamin C and Vitamin D3.
Around the same time, Verano debuted its line of BITS gummies, which also combine minor cannabinoids with botanical ingredients to deliver specific effects. They include:
- Yuzu Zone: Ginseng, reishi, turmeric, THC and CBG are combined to help consumers tackle that lengthy to-do list.
- Elderberry Wellness: THC, CBD, elderflower, elderberry and acerola offer well-being and comfort.
- Pomegranate R&R: THC, CBN, ashwagandha and lemon balm offer a more satisfying sleep.
- Acai Affection: THC, rose extract and rose hip deliver a hint of passion to enhance moments of intimacy.
- Guava Go: THC, coffee fruit and guarana are combined for a natural boost.
Late last year, Ripple rejuvenated its line of dissolvable powders and launched its Revive product, featuring a 1:1 blend of THC and CBG. It joined offerings including Balanced, Relief and Sleep.
“By adding Revive to our suite of products, we’re better able to serve the needs of our consumers by providing innovative and consistent products across the cannabinoid spectrum,” said Ripple CEO Justin Singer.