Guest Post: Recreational Market Could Be Dwarfed By Health & Wellness
HelloMD just released one of the most comprehensive medical marijuana patient studies conducted to date, with over 1,400 patients responding. The results make interesting reading for investors and could be an invaluable resource for anyone involved in the positioning of new cannabis products.
As individual states consider legislation for recreational use (aka: adult use), cannabis related businesses, of every size, shape, and color, are positioning to take advantage of what will become a multi-billion dollar market. With this, many believe the era of medical marijuana to soon be over. Some suggest that with the onset of a legalized recreational era, the ‘façade’ of medical use will no longer be necessary. Patients become consumers. Medicine becomes a consumable good.
There is no question that this will happen. However, there are signs that the recreational market may not be as big as anticipated. More to the point, any business taking their eye off the medical marijuana segment will potentially be turning their back on what could well evolve into a significantly larger market.
Consider this: Colorado is now 24 months into being recreationally legal and has a market generating about $1B in sales. Many expected the medical segment to fade. It didn’t. It held steady and contributes an estimated 40% of total sales. Why? Some believe it is due to lower taxes imposed on the sale of medical cannabis products (versus recreational), while others believe it due to medical cannabis products being of a higher quality. Both are reasonable hypotheses, but they fall short of explaining the endurance of the medical segment.
There is something more to the picture. The HelloMD Patient Study goes a long way to revealing what that might be.
One of the key findings from the HelloMD Patient Study was that 84% of respondents strongly agree that the use of medical marijuana provides them with relief from their symptoms. Patients report overwhelmingly positive results for the treatment of chronic pain, stress, anxiety and insomnia (among others). Very few reported negative side effects, with most reporting positive benefits over and above the primary effect, including mood elevation, relaxation, clarity, and its use as a replacement for alcohol.
Chronic pain featured as one of the top medical conditions patients sought to treat with cannabis. That’s no surprise. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy claims that chronic pain alone afflicts 100 million Americans and costs the nation over $600B in medical treatment and lost productivity. Prescription opioids (synthetic derivatives of opium) have increased ten-fold since 1990 and at great cost to people’s’ health and well-being. 44 people die every day from prescription opioid overdose. In 2007, prescription opioid abuse costs were about $55.7 billion in the US. Of this amount, 46% was attributable to lost productivity, 45% to healthcare costs and 9% to criminal justice costs. This is not to mention other high societal costs such as suicide and addiction.
By comparison, there has never been a death from overdose attributed to cannabis. In fact, no deaths whatsoever have been attributed to the direct effects of cannabis. Repeatedly, independent research has shown the cannabis safety record to be considerably superior to that of pharmaceutical pain medications.
How long will it take for the stigma of medical cannabis to erode such that mainstream Americans suffering from chronic pain see it as a viable alternative to prescription pain medications? The HelloMD Patient study reveals that 94% would recommend the use of marijuana to their friends and family as a treatment. These patients, many trying it for the first time (and sometimes as a last resort), are often so excited of its efficacy that they want to yell about it from the rooftops. They turn into passionate advocates. So, perhaps it won’t take as long as we might think.
It seems clear that over the longer term there is a much larger potential opportunity in medical cannabis than in the recreational market. Moreover, nobody talks today about the ‘recreational market for opioids’, at least not in any positive way.
When looking ahead, from one investor to another, here are a few points to consider:
- Cannabis is in a rapid state of transition at every level. It’s unlikely that the medical, or recreational markets we see emerging today will look the same in 5 years’ time.
- There has always been a large recreational market for cannabis. We don’t see this getting significantly larger with legalization, as for the most part people that want to recreate with cannabis already do so.
- Many people still consider cannabis to be on the wrong side of societal acceptance due to decades of engineered stigma. This is changing. Moreover, these are the people that are most likely to accept and consider using cannabis for Health and Wellness.
- Many companies racing to address the recreational market today (and tomorrow) are potentially disadvantaging themselves if they ignore the medicinal, health and wellness needs of mainstream consumers.
- Companies (and investors) that understand this are elevating their brand to accommodate mainstream health & wellness positioning.
The industry is amid massive transformation. Bets are being placed on the potential recreational habits of consumers. Very little data exists to forecast what this market might look like 5 years out. Our Patient Study is a leading indicator of an alternate market – one that has the potential to be much larger. Soccer Moms with migraines don’t want to get high, they want to feel better.
Mark Hadfield is CEO of HelloMD.com, which connects medical cannabis patients with medical doctors online from the comfort of their home using Telehealth technology. He previously founded Workshare.com and nScaled.com (acquired by Acronis) and lead sales for AddLive (acquired by Snapchat).
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