To many people, smoking marijuana is no longer cool. Marijuana smoke is notorious for smelling awful and smoking could damage your lungs. As more European consumers are no longer consuming cannabis for the thrill of it, the popularity of cannabis flowers is waning. However, cannabis edibles seem to be on the rise in Europe.
The cannabis flower market is barely emerging in Europe, but the cannabis edibles market segment is definitely on the rise. Edibles are one of the fastest-growing categories in the cannabis industry, with subcategories like cannabis gummies and cannabis-infused drinks showing strong growth trajectories, particularly amongst new users.
Could cannabis edibles in Europe become bigger than smoking marijuana? Let’s find out.
Why cannabis flowers are losing popularity
When cannabis markets first emerge, cannabis flower is by far the most popular product. That’s to be expected, as cannabis flower dominates the black-market sales and consumers buy something they might be familiar with. But, as the market expands and becomes more sophisticated, consumers will sooner or later try out cannabis products that don’t require smoking marijuana.
Now, you shouldn’t think that nobody smokes cannabis any more. In fact, cannabis flower is still the largest market segment in most active cannabis markets. But the market trends in 6 U.S. states show that, even though more people are consuming cannabis, cannabis flower sales are decreasing.
Cannabis edibles are quickly gaining ground. Thanks to the wide variety of mass-produced cannabis consumer products, the ‘mainstream’ consumers — ones who have no experience using joints, bongs, pipes etc. — can choose the goods they’re most comfortable with. Moreover, most cannabis edibles address the demands of the modern consumer — they’re discreet, easy to use, safe and have an accurate dosage.
The rise of cannabis edibles in Europe
Cannabis edibles are not a novelty for European consumers. There are over 150 coffeeshops in Amsterdam, and most of them sell space cakes. Tourists love these coffeeshops. It’s estimated that one out of four tourists going to Amsterdam visits a coffeeshop during his or her stay. Additionally, physicians from some European countries like Germany and Spain can prescribe cannabis edibles, albeit under strict regulations.
But a lot of Europeans consume cannabis edibles without visiting Amsterdam or having a prescription. They consume CBD-infused edibles.
CBD drives the European cannabis edibles market
CBD or cannabidiol is the most popular cannabinoid in Europe these days. Even though CBD does not get you high, it has been linked to a wealth of health and wellness benefits, so people consume it to improve their wellbeing.
And, here’s the thing, CBD products are legal in most European states as long as their THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the cannabinoid that gets you high) content is lower than 0.2 percent. That makes them accessible to the general public. You can now find CBD in sodas, protein bars, cookies, gummy bears, honey and other products in stores all over Europe.
Related: The Effects of CBD on the Human Body
But, even if they live in states that legalised recreational cannabis, people still prefer CBD over THC. Consumer trends in North American states that legalised recreational cannabis show that 54 percent of customers choose edible products based on their CBD content. Many of those products have a CBD:THC ratio of 10:1 or higher, thus, producing minimal or no intoxicating effects.
The European CBD market is currently worth around £480 million (€562 million). The Cannabis Trade Association (CTA) estimates that half of the cannabis dietary supplements consumed in Europe are oils, with vaping products being a third, and edibles as well as cosmetics making up the rest. But, at the same time, the CTA predicts that edibles and cosmetics are fertile growth areas in the European cannabis market.
The advantages of cannabis edibles
You might be wondering why consumers prefer eating cannabis over smoking it. Well, edibles meet most demands of the modern consumer.
Cannabis edibles look like normal products. Sure, some of them might showcase cannabis leaves on the wrapping for marketing purposes, but the products look like normal gummies, chocolates or other mass-produced goods.
Easy to use
Edibles are easier to use than cannabis flower. You don’t need special equipment like bongs or pipes to use them, you don’t need to learn how to roll a joint and you can use them anywhere you want, not only in places where smoking is allowed.
Getting the dose right with an edible is still one of the most difficult challenges for European producers. This is one of the complaints that Amsterdam budtenders will promptly bring up when asked about the challenges of their business. And that’s because you can only get an accurate dosage of cannabis or cannabinoids in an edible if you use cannabis concentrates, which Amsterdam budtenders are not allowed to do.
The space cakes you buy in Amsterdam coffeeshops have to include cannabis flower in their recipes. Now, budtenders put the same amount of flower (a maximum of 0.5g) in their cakes, but, unlike cannabis concentrates that have precise doses like 10 mg THC per 10 ml, cannabis flower has a variable cannabinoid profile, which means they can’t accurately estimate the cake’s potency.
Getting the dosage right is crucial because one milligram of THC that you ingest might be five times more potent than a milligram of THC you smoke. And that estimate doesn’t take into account your tolerance to THC and the presence of food in your digestive system, which can alter your experience.
And that’s one of the advantages of CBD edibles. Most CBD edibles are produced with CBD isolate, a powder that’s at least 99.9 percent pure CBD. With the help of the isolate, manufacturers can produce whole batches of goods that have precisely the same dosage of CBD.
Here’s the deal, the safety of cannabis edibles is closely related to their dosage, especially when you consume THC. When you smoke cannabis flower, THC enters your lungs where it’s absorbed into your bloodstream and transported to your brain. When the THC passes the blood-brain barrier, you get high. Now, this process usually doesn’t take very long, but it also doesn’t last for long either.
When you eat cannabis, however, THC enters your digestive tract and is then filtered by your liver. The liver filters the basic form of THC found in the cannabis flower and turns it into its active metabolite (you can read more about the process here), which actually produces a more powerful high and keeps you high for longer.
The problem is that the entire filtration process takes a lot of time. It usually takes about one and a half hours to get high from eating cannabis, but some users might only experience the psychoactive effects four hours after eating. So they might be tempted to eat more cannabis in the meantime. And that can lead to unpleasant experiences. Nobody has died from cannabis intoxication so far, but consuming a lot of THC can make you feel miserable.
And that’s the beauty of mass-produced CBD goods. Every time you consume a CBD-infused chocolate bar, you know exactly how much cannabidiol you’re eating. Plus, CBD doesn’t seem to produce notable side effects or overdoses.
As far as safety is concerned, it’s important to note that you should always buy cannabis edibles from renowned manufacturers. In the U.S., the authorities found products that contained only 60 to 80 percent of the advertised dosage and even some that contained synthetic cannabinoids. This is surely happening in Europe as well, so you should always do some research before buying a product.
Why cannabis edibles will always be bigger than smoking cannabis in Europe
Even though some European states are making progress toward legalising recreational cannabis, it’s difficult to believe that the cannabis flower market will surpass the edibles market. CBD is currently the go-to product of the European wellness industry, and some of the biggest cannabis investments in Europe this year focused on CBD.
CBD will continue to gain popularity because it’s the only active cannabis market segment in most of Europe. By the time European legislators will legalise cannabis flower, most European consumers will already be used to consuming cannabis in bite-sized pieces.