According to Vividata’s National Cannabis Consumer Study, 70% of consumers are not sure they know the difference between THC and CBD. Moreover, quality remains the top criterion in selecting a cannabis product for purchase. How are companies setting the standards for quality and how are we researching consumers to understand their experiences with cannabis products accurately and ethically?
Product Quality in Manufacturing
At an HIV Community Cannabis Education event held in Toronto, a cannabis company proudly declared their company had not had a single product recall to date. Product recall happens when a product is defective, damaged or does not meet the customer’s expectations causing the product to be called off the shelf. This “zero recall” standard, the team said, was attributed to the fact that their cannabis product standards with regard to food safety and health was high and involved documentation over 100 pages.
High product quality relies on a true understanding of the entire supply chain, from seed to sale with sanitized processes and quality checks including the creation of well-detailed preventative control plans that are in place to avoid instances of hazards like contamination or other public safety risks. These are the responsibility of the manufacturer.
Setting Standards for Cannabis Research Studies
When companies, individuals or groups conduct or commission research of any kind on cannabis product one or more of its various forms (edibles, topicals, beverages, etc.) among human subjects, legal knowledge of the laws outlined the Cannabis Act should be distributed to all participants ahead of time. In fact, it is encouraged that respondents are tested on their knowledge of cannabis to ensure they understand the ins and outs of the product they are being researched for or with.
Respondent experience must be central to the research exercise. With cannabis, every user has a different experience, but the law that applies to everyone is the same. This is also why it’s so challenging to create standards that accommodate for the medical as well as the recreational standards in the conduct of consumer research around cannabis.
o Respondent checks: Age gates are in place to ensure compliance, and if underaged, then medical license is checked.
o Product testing: The products have been through the rigourous checks and audits by Health Canada and display the legal seal.
o Technology powered research: Virtual clinical trials and other accelerated technologies that mix the potential of new technologies with cannabis to create research insights quickly and more accurately, are what are being called Cannabis 3.0.
o Medical conditions: A panel of doctors must be present at the time of any product research to ensure no adverse effects lessen the health of the participants.
o 24-hour follow up: All respondents must be followed up with after a period of 24 hours to see that no negative consequences have occurred since the research.
An individualized approach to research must be adopted when the product is being tested for consumers. With cannabis research studies, companies might appear to follow different standards of benchmarking product quality, making it difficult for customers to judge products without trying them. While the medical legal market has been commercially legal since 2013, the adult-use or recreational market only became legal in October 2018, with the complete legalization of all product forms happening in October 2019.
Some industry insiders and veteran consumers argue that legal market cannabis has fallen short on expectations with price-point, being 62% more expensive than black market cannabis according to Statistics Canada. Canada’s largest syndicated study of cannabis consumers reveals that price remains a top barrier to legal cannabis consumption.
As legal cannabis is still new in Canada, DIY methods and products are rampant. The gatekeepers of standards are challenged and face challenges when the market draws a false line between efficiency and quality. For individualized products, standards are new and developing, even as the industry is fast-moving and dependent on an intuitive honour code across the supply chain for effective quality control. An example that best demonstrates the need for quality control is around the lack of information about what cannabis is made of, what its effects and health benefits (where applicable) might be, and how to understand consistency, potency, and dosage in consuming medically and recreationally.
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Source: Generation1.ca, MRIA-ARIM