From smoke shops to coffee shops, and from greenhouses to government houses, one budding trend has spread through the U.S. so rapidly that it’s left the industry buzzing: cannabis.

We’ve seen an uptick in emerging brands that infuse common consumer products with cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive extract of cannabis hailed for its health-inducing properties, but as of yet still waiting on its proper medical credentials.

But what do consumers really think about the CBD industry, and how do more traditional brands even begin to get involved in an arena often fraught with confusion and legal landmines?

We asked U.S. internet users about their perceptions and concerns around CBD products to find out.

2 in 3 U.S. internet users would consider using CBD-containing or CBD-infused products.

Chart detailing the appetite for CBD products in the U.S..

In late December 2018, President Donald Trump signed the 2019 Farm Bill into law. This extensive package of agricultural policies and initiatives includes the legalization of hemp farming and provides financial aid to stimulate hemp’s transition into a commodity crop.

Considered a legal milestone, the bill is opening the floodgates for a rapidly-growing industry, one that’s already projected to reach nearly $2 billion in the United States by 2022.

The Evolution of Health and Wellness  

We can’t analyze the growth of the CBD industry, and the cannabis industry as a whole, without examining one of the major consumer trends fueling it – the evolution of health and wellness.

Between 2012 and 2017, the global wellness industry grew an estimated 12.8% – amounting to a market now valued at over $4 trillion.

Alternative medicine and self-care underpin much of this trend, especially in the U.S., where the rates of anxiety and depression have climbed in tandem with the rising costs of traditional healthcare.

In an environment shaped by these factors, cannabis is well positioned to emerge as a viable option for many people seeking alternatives to traditional healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

Through our data, we see exactly this perspective emerge.

Health, medicinal, and wellbeing products are the number one application that U.S. consumers most associate with legally-derived cannabis, and by quite a margin.

65% of consumers associate cannabis-derived products with healthcare applications.

This is compared to 37% who associate this substance with food and beverages, and just 28% who associate it with beauty and personal care items.

This connection with health and wellness is likely contributing to the high rate of consideration for using CBD-infused products our research has uncovered.

Chart detailing the motivations for using CBD products.

Distinctions emerge among consumers of different income and education levels.

Low and middle-income consumers are more likely to consider using CBD-infused products for stress management, pain management, and alleviating systems of a mental health disorder. High-income consumers are more likely to consider using these types of products for preventative medicine and recreational use.

This points to an interesting possibility. When considering the financial burden of healthcare in the U.S., especially for middle-income Americans who often struggle to cover costs yet may not be eligible for government subsidies, alternatives to traditional pharmaceuticals may become legitimate options to treat their ailments.

In this environment, the potential for CBD is massive.

CBD: Resistance and Regulation

Though growing rapidly, image problems and negative social connotations around controlled substance use still weigh down the cannabis industry. But these perceptions are changing.

The attitudes of U.S. consumers we surveyed indicate resistance to both recreational and medicinal cannabis products is low.

Among all respondents, close to 50% believe in blanket legality for all hemp/marijuana products. A further one-third of consumers support legality for medical hemp/marijuana products, but not marijuana for recreational purposes. These figures are consistent among Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers, indicating widespread generational acceptance is emerging.

Further examination of the one-fifth of U.S. consumers who would not consider using CBD-containing products provides some insight around these challenges.

The potential for negative associations of CBD users in society is one of the lowest concerns among this group, further supporting the idea that perceptions are changing and should not be a barrier to the industry for much longer.  

What respondent concerns do point to, however, is the need for better research, education, and regulation.

These are basic principles we put in place for the foods we eat and the medications we take, ensuring a level of consumer protection that’s necessary to establish trust and stability for any product in the marketplace.

The Marketing Minefield

For brands looking to get involved in the CBD rush, navigating the waters around marketing a CBD-infused product can be precarious.

The variety of media laws and regulations for advertising CBD in different U.S. states and through different networks makes for a confusing picture. Recently, CBS rejected an advertisement from medical marijuana company Acreage Holdings from airing during the Superbowl, arguably advertising’s ultimate beauty pageant.

The typically more lenient realm of social media has become a contentious space for these products, as well, with Facebook and Google recently restricting CBD and marijuana companies from advertising on their platforms.

Despite these restrictions, consumer attitudes again offer a more positive perspective that suggests the tide will soon turn.

Only 9% object to CBD products being advertised.

The majority would prefer to see the health angle promoted and hear testimonials from both the medical community and current users.

Chart detailing the right messaging around CBD products.

Premiumization of CBD

With consumers’ positive attitudes toward CBD products and general receptiveness toward seeing them advertised, the opportunity for brands across a range of industries to enter the fray is enormous.

Essential to a successful entrance into the market, however, is creating trust around a compound with so little regulation and understanding.

For those that can do this, the rewards are likely to be significant. Our research indicates that 60% of consumers who are open to trying CBD agree they would pay a premium for products infused with the compound.

This strategy of positioning CBD as a more ‘premium’ version of your standard latte or chocolate bar has clearly got legs. We have seen it begin to appear in more progressive, cosmopolitan areas and expect this trend to further permeate as CBD becomes more readily available across the U.S.

As consumer perceptions continue to evolve, and as more new and established brands enter the CBD market, we will continue to map this trend’s progress into our mainstream culture.

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Written by

Virna is a Senior Insights Analyst at GlobalWebIndex. Working across both the Trends and Insights teams, she uses GlobalWebIndex data to help clients with strategic business goals and decisions. Additionally, she contributes to GlobalWebIndex off-the shelf reports, infographics, and the Chart of the Week blog series. Virna joined GlobalWebIndex in June 2018 after working for a sponsorship consulting group in Dublin, Ireland. Her interests include consumer psychology and sociology, with a particular focus on race and gender representation in popular media.

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