Let’s Get High on Social Impact: How the Cannabis Industry Can Support Social Change

It’s time for the cannabis industry to start using its potency to catalyze social change.

It’s no secret that cannabis, in its many forms, now constitutes a multi-billion-dollar industry. North America will extend legal spending from $9.2 billion to $47.3 billion between 2017 and 2027, according to Arcview Market Research. In 2017, legal cannabis sales matched the entire snack bar industry, reports BDS Analytics.

But that good-good has soaring potential to do some actual good, too. Industry leaders and entrepreneurs need to get the conversation rolling, though.

Pop-sentiment, stigma and legal illiteracy have dictated activity in the cannabis industry for the past decade, while impeding widespread, empirical knowledge. Sharp businessmen and women are benefitting from such ignorance from a marketing standpoint, relying on positioning cannabis as the next “it” thing for progressives, while neglecting to educate consumers on its potential social influence.

This profit-centric framework of thinking is indeed swelling market potential, but it’s preventing cannabis from reaching those whom it can most meaningfully affect.

Consumer-facing businesses are proving effective in their novelty-milking, targeting the disposable income of the minimally-informed yet profoundly open-minded.

Take, for example, cannabis’s recent entrée into the luxury wellness market at Gwyneth Paltrow’s In Goop Health Summit in Los Angeles this past June, where $650 seats and the coveted opportunity to ogle over millennial-pink vaporizers and sparkling THC candies signal a progressive marker of affluence. Or, the recent emergence of Cannabidiol extras in upscale hospitality, such as the CBD-laced room service menu at The James Hotel in New York City. As they stand alone, these are not dishonorable business strategies by any means.

But, as they continue to proliferate, something seems to be missing.

I tip my hat to these business gatekeepers for realizing cannabis’s economic potential and moving the national dialogue further towards acceptance. However, I furrow my brow at the sluggish maturity of social impact in the cannabis space, as social impact and activism are central to the B2C blueprint at this point in time.

Business leaders have figured out how to tap the faddy cannabis cachet and rake in the green. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves.

 

How CBD helped treat PTSD and Insomnia

 

I see one major area in which cannabis industry players can spark serious change without banging on congressional doors. First and foremost is using cannabis as medicine. When I was a freshman at Brown University in 2015, a dear friend sought treatment for Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder induced insomnia. She thought to utilize the University’s psych services. She just needed sleep, and perhaps a hug, but was prescribed a big-name antidepressant following a five-minute consultation.

I watched my friend experience a slew of negative side-effects—weight gain, fatigue, irritability, fogginess—that ended up doing more harm than the insomnia itself. Probably because she wasn’t actually depressed. She stopped taking the medication, and together we did some digging online.

To our surprise and delight, we found a 2012 study detailing the mitigation of PTSD symptoms by Cannabinol (CBD). Willing to try anything, we dove into further research. Once convinced, she ordered her first of many tinctures. She immediately experienced the relief she’d been seeking, sans side-effects, and has been self-medicating with CBD ever since.

 

How can the Cannabis industry, Cannabis and CBD help people right now?

 

Today, there is no shortage of reputable research on the extensive list of neurological and physical ailments treatable by Cannabis and CBD—anxiety, epilepsy, blood pressure, chemotherapy side effects, and chronic pain among them. However, there is a serious shortage of mainstream knowledge and robust distribution channels.

Consider why my friend’s doctor didn’t bother to suggest CBD as a viable treatment option, despite its nationwide legality, as a case in point. Now recognize how much privilege she had in that situation. She has healthcare, free access to psychiatrists through a prestigious University, access to medical research through said University’s databases, and enough money to support a roughly $50-$60 per-month CBD sleep routine.

Her discovery of and switch to Cannabis components as medicine was as seamless as her privilege permitted.

There are more men, women, and children suffering from the aforementioned ailments that struggle to attain any form of healthcare than I can fathom. As of January 2018, 12.2% of all U.S. adults lack health insurance.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America Estimates that one third of the North American population experiences anxiety unwellness issues. According to census data, that puts the number of U.S. adults affected by anxiety, but without healthcare at approximately 14.7 million.

And that’s just anxiety, excluding kids and teens. 14.7 million adult lives can be improved—potentially saved—by cannabis treatment, and most have no clue to even seek it out, let alone how to access it.

The entire Cannabis Industry needs to consider the numbers mentioned previously, in addition to profit margins, and weave elements of social change throughout their business strategies.

Medicine is just one area in which education and distribution channels need a spark plug. And, the benefits of tapping into this issue extend far beyond positive branding. Incorporating a change-agent initiative in the medical cannabis community has the potential to save real lives. That should matter more than novelty sales. Use those sales to drive growth and elevate your platform, sure. But, why not harness the position of privilege that resources and exposure afford to service a cause that’s tangential to this multi-billion-dollar industry.

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