Tuesday October 27, 2020
By Paul Barach
So much has changed with cannabis in a short amount of time. With advancements in production and a rise in demand, the amount and quality of flower, concentrates, and edibles have exploded, while their prices have dropped in states with well-established legalized markets.
For cannabis consumers, this has been nothing but good news. Everyone has plenty of options to find which product and method of cannabis consumption works best for them. Those who prefer smoking flower have their pick from countless strains on well-lit dispensary shelves. Concentrates consumers have their pick from isolate to full spectrum in everything from BHO wax to naturally produced rosin. Fans of edibles pick among brightly colored gummies and infused gourmet olive oil.
However, while the cannabis industry continues to grow, as it seeks to meet everyone’s specific preferences, some consumers are being forced to choose their product based on the cash in their pockets, rather than their favorite effects.
Price discrepancy is especially prevalent in recently-legalized states like Massachusetts and Illinois, who are facing the same growing pains that have become a right of passage in those first few years of cannabis prohibition repeal. Flower costs continue to fluctuate as supply issues run into overwhelming demands and remain higher than average for a legalized state. Possibly due to this, edibles are gaining in popularity among cannabis consumers living in those states.
Are Edibles Cheaper Than Other Marijuana Products?
The pricing of edibles is more standardized than flower for numerous reasons. One major factor is that edibles production involves less specialized conditions and labor.
Growing cannabis on a large scale requires an incredible amount of space to keep the plants distanced and healthy (often large warehouses), whereas edibles manufacturing requires less room, even for a very large kitchen. Growers must purchase vast amounts of energy to use for lighting and ventilation, large amounts of raw materials in terms of soil and nutrients, and enough water to irrigate a small forest. Even when considering equipment and ingredients, edible production tends to simply require less.
There’s also the human labor that goes into every step from planting to processing each bud for sale. Flower, as an end product, is valued higher when it is more meticulously cured and pruned, requiring time and attention, and thus more resources. While cannabis chefs certainly have their work cut out for them, their process is much easier to streamline and automate.
Additionally, edible manufacturers only touch the flower once it’s delivered to them as easily processable trim, and this is where one of the largest differences in price lies. The extracts used for making edibles can be sourced from parts of the plant that are less desirable for smoking (like shake and popcorn buds). Thus, edible producers can buy the plant matter at a discount from the growers and then infuse the cannabinoids into oils or other digestible forms before adding the food ingredients of their product. From cheaper starting materials they can make quality products, which is just not as viable with flower, and thus the cheaper price point at the dispensary.
For consumers with the right tolerance, mindset, or biological makeup, edibles are their go-to every time. It can simply be the best bang for your buck.
How Edibles are Different From Smoking Cannabis
Because the lungs are the shortcut to the bloodstream, inhaling cannabis means you’ll feel the effects in under ten minutes, and typically faster than that. This is a major selling point for pot smokers. Edibles, on the other hand, may take up to an hour longer to take effect.
However, for pot consumers willing to wait, their patience pays off. Since the liver breaks the cannabinoids down over time, the effects of edibles can remain pretty steady for up to six hours. The effects of inhaled cannabis last for only a half to a third of that. Plus, the liver breaks delta-9 THC down into 11-hydroxy THC, providing at times a much stronger psychoactive effect.
Is Price the Only Reason for Edibles’ Popularity?
Given all this, is price a large enough factor for cannabis consumers who prefer inhaling to switch to their second choice? Edible sales have been rising in both Illinois and Massachusetts, and the price at the pump can’t really be ignored. The price of a pack of edibles is usually somewhere around $20-30 depending on the product and the amount contained, whereas an eighth is selling for $55 pre-tax in both Massachusetts and Illinois.
Paying less for something that lasts longer is always going to be a financial draw. It’s only reasonable to assume that some consumers would rather have more THC available to them than less, no matter what form it is in. However, edible sales have gone up across the country during the pandemic, and not just in Massachusetts and Illinois.
Dispensaries in California, Las Vegas, and New York are reporting a spike in edible sales, even with the lower cost of flower in those states.
Beyond cost, there may be several reasons for this trend of consumers making the switch to edibles. The first is that edibles are a much easier entry point to consume cannabis for first-timers. Plenty of Americans are looking for a new way to deal with the societal stress of the Coronavirus pandemic, as well as literally everything else going on right now. There are a lot of downsides to turning to alcohol for stress relief, and a lot of side effects can come with pharmaceutical solutions. Pot has fewer downsides than either, but inhaling smoke into your lungs is not a natural action, and may feel like a more severe departure from the norm. On the other hand, everyone who isn’t still a newborn baby has experience with chewing and swallowing.
Customers’ concerns over their health and safety are another major variable that could be driving edible sales. Since Coronavirus primarily attacks the lungs, many people have become wary of inhaling anything. While cannabis smoke is not nearly as harmful to lung tissue as cigarette smoke, why add any more irritation in the form of burnt up plant matter to lungs that are already struggling?
Another factor could be the challenges of working from home. For cannabis consumers who enjoyed a toke throughout the day while they were on their lonesome, are suddenly stuck in their homes, and more importantly, around their roommates, partners, spouses, or children a lot more. If the smell of cannabis smoke was an issue for any of these people before, it’s better not to exacerbate the situation now. In order to keep the peace, some consumers may be choosing to chew an edible rather than trying to air out a room that’s already occupied. Especially if the outside air is much smokier than it used to be.
In these times of stocking pantries, another part of the equation could be storage. A lot of people are wary about going out in public too often, and increasing their risk of infection around crowds. Flower can keep for a while as long as it’s airtight and out of the light, but edibles can remain shelf-stable for months. They can also be frozen and thawed back out up to half a year later with no noticeable drop in quality.
The Future of Edibles in the Cannabis Market
Whether it’s the price difference driving consumers to edibles or changes to society brought on by the current pandemic remains to be seen. Once Massachusetts and Illinois’ cannabis markets mature and stabilize, it’ll be a lot clearer whether cash-strapped flower fans were making a short-term economic decision, or whether the long-lasting benefits of edibles are gaining them new fans for life.
Does pricing play into your cannabis consumption method choices? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!