Legal cannabis – a threat to big pharma & a marketing opportunity?

The noise surrounding legalization of cannabis for recreational use has been deafening. A bit lost in all the excitement is the growing legitimacy of the health benefits of medical cannabis. Here are a few of factors that are driving this:

  • Current & future legalization has and will continue to result in more clinical research
  • The health benefits of cannabis are a hot topic in all media formats
  • Broad distribution and availability of CBD across the USA

Thanks to the US’s Controlled Substance Act, cannabis is officially thought to have “no accepted medical use,” a classification that impedes any human-based research. However, smart money is banking on federal U.S. deregulation in the next couple of years, so we are seeing real momentum in regard to increased research activity. According to a recent survey published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 94 per cent of dermatologists believe researching the dermatological uses of cannabinoids is worthwhile. The Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids (CCIC) vision is to be the trusted resource for evidence-based education on the health impacts of cannabis and to be the national network hub for ongoing cannabis/cannabinoid research. The worldwide leader in cannabinoid research is Israel. In 2017, the School of Pharmacy at Hebrew University founded the Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research that focuses marijuana research into these areas:

  • Cancer
  • Pain
  • Inflammation and stress management
  • Immunity
  • Metabolism
  • Drug delivery and nanotechnology
  • Pharmaceutical chemistry
  • Neuroscience
  • Plant science and genetics

Despite a general ban on cannabis-related advertising by digital and social media giants Facebook, Google, Twitter, the health benefits of cannabis are being discussed everywhere and by seemingly everyone. A quick Google search of “Reddit health benefits of cannabinoids” yielded 227K results alone. Websites as diverse as, the Harvard University Health Blog,, Wikipedia and many others offer differing points of view. Hard to watch this YouTube video and not be convinced there is a role for medical cannabis.

The 2018 Farm Bill and subsequent legislative action in some states has cleared the way for national drug chains Walgreens and CVS (among others) to stock CBD products in many of their stores. This is despite the fact that the FDA has not yet ruled definitively on the subject of CBD. Recently, major U.S. chain The Vitamin Shoppe adds Charlotte Web’s CBD gummies to its shelves in 45 states. This partnership allows a trusted retail to expand the national footprint of CBD wellness products. Although CBD products are not available in all CVS or Walgreens stores nationally, they have made it available in states that have legalized cannabis and also some states that have not. And across the USA, it’s hard to find a local independent health food store that does not stock CBD products. What’s all this mean for traditional pharma? In states where there are medical cannabis dispensaries, there is a significant decrease in prescriptions filled for opioids. When obtaining my medical cannabis licence, I spoke with physicians who are seeing their patients moving away from prescription pain medication to cannabis. There is also some insights work that found a significant percentage of women are self-diagnosing and turning to cannabis to alleviate menstrual pain. These health issues and many others represent significant opportunities, and challenges, for marketers in the health and wellness category – no matter your side of the cannabis debate.

Legal Cannabis – A threat to Big Pharma?
Article Name
Legal Cannabis – A threat to Big Pharma?
The purported health benefits of cannabis has created a competitor to the Rx and OTC products offered by Big Pharma, a significant opportunity (and challenge) for marketers.

Opportunities & Challenges for Marketers in the Commerce of Cannabis


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