A new report from New Frontier Data explores the necessity of understanding what medical cannabis patients are currently looking for and require in cannabis medicine. Entitled “From Doctor to Dispensary: A Complete Picture of Medical Cannabis Consumers,” the report analyzes data from a recently published consumer survey, which includes input from 1,874 medical cannabis patients.
New Frontier Data argues that insurance companies could benefit the most from better understanding medical patients. “The Federal Schedule 1 status of cannabis means that it has no recognized medical value. At the same time, almost every state in the U.S. allows for some form of medical cannabis use,” the report states. “This contradiction has resulted in millions of medical cannabis patients with the approval to use cannabis by their state and their doctor, but no access to insurance reimbursement for this medicine, which is usually highly taxed.”
Among the most common conditions that medical patients treat with cannabis is pain (47% of surveyed participants), followed by anxiety/panic attacks (22%), depression (9%), sleep disorders (9%), PTSD (7%), neurological disorders (6%). Additionally, 93% of medical cannabis consumers say that cannabis has helped them, with 57% saying that it significantly improved their medical conditions (while only 36% say that it only slightly improved their condition).
Fifty percent of patients reported that they were currently using prescription drugs, mainly antidepressants (45%), muscle relaxers (27%), arthritis (23%), sleep (20%), and opioids for pain (17%). Over half of the patients also said that they have replaced some or all of their prescription medications with cannabis as well.
The federally illegal status of cannabis is a roadblock for many parts of the industry, but opinions about cannabis are rapidly changing. “This information is especially useful to insurance companies who might view cannabis as a medicine with less potential harm and therefore less cost to them than other medications,” the report explained. “Less harm may also be a driver for the medical cannabis consumer as only 40% say that saving money is a reason for the substitution.”
New Frontier Data also advises how brands can best cater to medical cannabis patients versus average recreational consumers. Both medical and recreational consumers prefer to consume cannabis on their own, or without others. In products with a hybrid of cannabinoid content, only 43% of medical consumers chose products with more THC than CBD, compared to 57% of recreational consumers. However, medical cannabis consumers led with 54% for products that had “slightly more CBD than THC,” and 57% with products that contained “much more CBD than THC.”
Overall, the report found that 55% of medical consumers believe it’s very important to consider minor cannabinoids or terpenes when making a purchase (with 23% saying “I don’t know what that is.”)
Retailers also stand to update their approach to serving medical cannabis patients, as they usually have strong loyalty to strains that they know are effective. Fifty-nine percent usually or always pick the same strain, while only 34% will alternate between options they are familiar with. Most consumers, both medical (52%) and recreational (50%), tend to spend around $50-$200 on cannabis products per month, while a lower percentage will spend more than $200 (30% for medical and 33% for recreational).
“With all the focus on adult use legalization and the recreational consumer, it can be easy to forget that there is a large population of consumers who rely on cannabis for their physical and mental health,” the report concluded. “And while some may argue that all cannabis use is medical, there are certainly distinguishing factors for medical consumers as evidenced above. As cannabis continues its march towards federal medical acceptance, insurance companies, brands and retailers should be aware of the needs of this group and how to meet them.”