An increasing number of consumption methods are entering the growing cannabis market throughout the United States, ranging from cannabis flower and edibles to concentrates and tinctures. As public opinion shifts, regulations shift, allowing for a change in accessibility and awareness around cannabis.
To better understand the relationship between generations and cannabis consumption methods, Veriheal surveyed a sample of over 200,000 adult medical cannabis patients in the U.S. that registered on the Veriheal database between December 10, 2021, and December 10, 2022. Respondents answered questions regarding product preferences, user experience, medical conditions, and several other variables that inform and impact their cannabis use.
Patients were divided into the following generational groups based on birth year:
To simplify data analysis, Generation Z and Millennials (ages 18-41) will be grouped together due to their highly similar response data; Generation X and Baby Boomers (ages 42-76) will also be grouped for the same reason. Additional research is also considered to support the validity of the survey findings.
According to Veriheal’s patient database, 79% of Generation Z and Millennials (ages 18-41) prefer medical cannabis flower the most, while only 61% of Generation X and Baby Boomers (ages 42-76) prefer flower, making it their second-most preferred behind edibles (63%).
When asked what conditions they used medical cannabis for, the majority of older patients (58%) reported chronic pain compared to just 43% of younger patients. The second-most reported condition among older generations was trouble sleeping (56%). This information is reflected in older patients’ responses to the question “How do you want to feel [after cannabis consumption]?” Most (75%) reported a desire to feel pain-free, followed by 58% wanting to feel relaxed.
Social stigma and harm reduction also appear to factor into older generations’ preference for edibles over other products. A 2016 study showed that older consumers were concerned about long-term lung damage due to smoking, which may explain their slight preference for edibles to flower. Older patients also displayed an aversion to concentrates, likely due to the difficulty of consuming them safely and the stigma surrounding their use.
Finally, older generations have been observed to seek products that permit normal social functioning. Edibles can be more efficiently dosed than other consumption methods, giving consumers more control over their effects.
The preference for flower consumption in younger individuals has been observed across many regions for years. The majority of younger survey respondents (79%) reported flower as the cannabis product they were most interested in, demonstrating younger generations’ gravitation toward inhalable, faster-onset products. This is also reflected in younger patients’ higher interest in concentrates (34%) compared to older patients (19%).
Along with having stronger initial effects, inhalable flower and concentrates are less discreet, more complicated to consume, and more impactful on airways than edibles. This suggests that younger generations are less concerned with stigma and harm reduction compared to older generations.
Interestingly, a higher percentage of the younger generations reported nausea (12%) than the older generations (7%).
According to a study conducted in April 2022, flower and concentrates showed more effectiveness in treating nausea than edibles or tinctures, which would support the observation of higher flower and concentrate use in the younger respondents. This makes a lot of medical sense given that people with acute nausea generally do not tolerate food or drink by mouth, meaning that inhalational routes are ideal.
In addition to explaining variations in generational cannabis preferences, this study explored how these preferences may vary between states with different levels of cannabis legality.
The survey data was further analyzed to determine if state cannabis legalization status plays a role in patient product preferences. Comparing the data from a sample of medical-only states (i.e., Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida) and adult-use states (i.e., New Jersey, New York, and Illinois) revealed no significant variances, meaning generational trends are shared between most states with few exceptions.
The type of cannabis program a state has—medical or both medical and recreational—is not the only policy that can influence patient cannabis preferences. We conducted some additional research to examine other factors that may contribute to state-specific preferences.
Each state has its own regulations and ideas surrounding medical cannabis use. Sometimes policies can restrict the types of products available, like in Pennsylvania, Florida, and New York. These states legalized medical cannabis before they allowed flower as a product, which restricted the options for medical patients in these states.
The most notable variation discovered in the state analysis was a higher preference for flower rather than edibles among Generation X and Baby Boomer medical patients in Pennsylvania. This is likely due to the fact that the sale of edibles is still not allowed in Pennsylvania.
Such restrictions on products are prevalent in many states. As more states become educated on cannabis and consumer demand, these restrictions are lifting, allowing for a greater variety of preferences among medical patients.
Cannabis advertisement has been very controlled and regulated in the past, but specific regulations are beginning to be outlined more. Many state cannabis advertising policies share similarities, including bans on:
According to a study conducted in 2017, a common source for seeing advertisements was digital media, with around 77% of participants reporting observing a digital advertisement in the past month. This study concluded that advertisements had associations with heavier use and use of products with higher THC percentages, such as high-THC flower and concentrates, especially among users that claimed to have seen a recent digital advertisement.
This indicates that digital advertising may impact product preferences among the younger generations that use digital media more often.
Many factors influence the decision-making process of medical cannabis patients, and understanding these factors is critical to building a medical cannabis industry that adequately meets patient needs.
Older generations’ preference for edibles may be due to their need for lasting pain relief, tendency toward harm reduction, and concerns about societal views of smoking. Younger generations’ preference for flower and concentrates could be rooted in their need for nausea relief, desire for faster effects, and exposure to digital advertisements.
As the industry grows, many states are expanding their cannabis laws to allow a wider variety of cannabis products. This accessibility combined with cannabis education will empower medical patients to make more informed decisions on cannabis use to lead healthier, happier lives.
for their medical cannabis cards