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The Big Pharma Takeover of Medical Cannabis

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The Big Pharma Takeover of Medical Cannabis

As evidence of cannabis’ many benefits mounts, so does the interest from the global pharmaceutical industry, known as Big Pharma. The entrance of such behemoths will radically transform the cannabis industry—once heavily stigmatized, it is now a potentially game-changing source of growth for countless companies.

Today’s infographic comes to us from CB2 Insights, and explores how and why the notorious Big Pharma are interested in the nascent cannabis industry.

Who are “Big Pharma”?

The term refers to some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, considered especially influential as a group. To give a sense of their sheer size, the market cap of the top 10 Big Pharma companies is $1.7 trillion—Johnson & Johnson being the largest, with a market capitalization of $374 billion.

So far, Big Pharma has watched the cannabis industry from the sidelines, deterred by regulatory concerns. What we are seeing now is the sleeping giant’s takeover slowly intensifying as more patents, partnerships, and sponsored clinical trials come to fruition.

Could Cannabis be Sold Over the Counter?

The cannabis plant has been used in medicine for 6,000 years. However, there is still considerable debate around the role it plays in healthcare today. There are currently almost 400 active and completed clinical trials worldwide surrounding cannabidiol (CBD), a type of cannabinoid that makes up 40% of the cannabis plant’s extract.

Cannabis relies on CBD’s therapeutic properties, and recent studies suggest it may be useful in combating a variety of health conditions, such as:

  • Epilepsy
  • Schizophrenia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Migraines
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer side effects

As of 2019, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medical use. Its potential for pain management has led some experts to recommend it as an alternative to addictive painkillers, with one study of 13 states showing opiate-related deaths decreasing by over 33% in the six years since medical cannabis was legalized.

As the industry evolves, data is becoming increasingly important in understanding the potential of cannabis—both as a viable medical treatment, and as a recreational product. The shift away from anecdotal evidence towards big data will inform future policies, and give rise to a new era of consumer education.

Big Pharma’s Foray into Cannabis

Further legalization of cannabis will challenge Big Pharma’s bottom line, and poach more than $4 billion from pharma sales annually. In fact, medical cannabis sales are projected to reach $5.9 billion in 2019, from an estimated 24 million patients.

Seven of Canada’s top 10 cannabis patent holders are major multinational pharmaceutical companies, a trend that is not unique to Canada.

Company Rank🇨🇦 Canadian PatentsCompany Rank🇺🇸 U.S. Patents
1. Novartis211. Abbvie59
2. Pfizer142. Sanofie39
3. GW Pharmaceuticals133. Merck35
4. Ericsson134. Bristol-Myers Squibb34
5. Merck115. GW Pharmaceuticals28
6. Solvay Pharmaceuticals76. Pfizer25
7. Kao Corporation77. Hebrew University of Jerusalem19
8. Ogeda SA78. Roche17
9. Sanofi69. University of Connecticut16
10. University of Connecticut610. U.S. Health and Human Services13

It comes as no surprise that many pharmaceutical giants have already formed strong partnerships with cannabis companies, such as Novartis and Tilray, who will develop and distribute medical cannabis together in legal jurisdictions around the world.

Data is the Missing Link

While the body of knowledge about the many uses of cannabis continue to grow, clinical evidence is key for widespread adoption.

Products backed by data will be a defining criteria for major companies to come into the market en masse. And ultimately, Big Pharma’s entry could accelerate public understanding and confidence in cannabis as a viable option for a range of ailments, and mark the next major milestone for the industry.

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Visualizing the Boom in the CBD Beverage Market

CBD-infused beverages are considered to be the fastest growing segment in the overall cannabis market. How did this partnership of brews and bud come to be?

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Visualizing the Boom in the CBD Beverage Market

It’s safe to say that the cascade of cannabis legislation has sent the world into a constant state of flux. We are witnessing a seismic shift in culture, as cannabis steps out of the black market and into unexpected industries—from big pharma, to beauty, and now to beverages.

According to Zenith Global, the U.S. CBD-infused drinks market will reach an estimated $1.4 billion by 2023, making it one of the fastest-growing segments in the overall industry.

Today’s infographic comes to us from Trait Biosciences, and outlines the magnitude of the CBD-infused beverage segment, along with some of the subsequent challenges and opportunities that will shape the future of cannabis.

CBD and its Benefits

CBD is an abbreviated term for cannabidiol, a type of cannabinoid that makes up 40% of a cannabis plant’s extract. It has become increasingly popular for relieving pain, promoting relaxation, and lifting mood without the psychoactive properties that come with THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the other major cannabinoid.

Recent studies suggest that CBD’s properties may be useful in combating a variety of health conditions such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, migraines, arthritis, and even side effects of cancer.

The New Wave of Beverages

CBD-infused beverages will open the floodgates to new audiences who want to consume cannabis in different formats. They have many benefits, that will rival other methods of ingestion:

  • Easy to Administer
    Beverages are seen as the healthier way to consume CBD, especially compared to smoking.
  • More Accessible
    They are becoming more easily available in restaurants, bars, supermarkets, and online sites.
  • Functionality
    There is some evidence to suggest that CBD in caffeinated products can curtail the feeling of being on “edge”.
  • Higher Precision
    Dosage is controlled and, much like alcohol, consumers will be able to determine how much CBD content they want.
    • Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic product categories are currently being explored, resulting in some unexpected partnerships, such as Molson Coors—the world’s seventh largest brewer—and Hexo Corp, a Canadian cannabis product company.

      Trends Shaping the Future of CBD Beverages

      The CBD product landscape is constantly evolving. Demand for CBD-infused beverages will be fueled by three key trends.

      1. Changing Consumer Preferences: The decline of alcohol sales globally is evidence of changing consumer tastes. Sales are expected to fall further as more people exchange alcohol for cannabis products.
      2. Product Innovation: Sustainable packaging, transparency around ingredients, more convenient ready-to-drink solutions, and personalized strains are driving the furious pace of product innovation.
      3. Big Players and Influencers: Growing knowledge and increasing brand/celebrity endorsements are creating an established CBD industry in mainstream culture. Already, singer Willie Nelson and former NFL star Terrell Davis have put their names to two seperate lines of CBD-infused beverages.

      As these trends evolve, consumers will benefit from more education around CBD, which could lead to more CBD products, like beverages, entering the mainstream across numerous industries.

      What’s Next for the CBD-infused Beverage Market?

      CBD purity is a primary focus area of current scientific studies. For consumers, more transparency is needed around ingredients, dosage levels, and product labeling. For example, the state of Indiana now mandates that manufacturers must label CBD products with QR codes that can be scanned to show whether they contain acceptable levels of THC, CBD, pesticides, and other compounds.

      Most notably, new methods of CBD infusion will transform the beverages market. Many industry players have used nano-emulsion to infuse CBD. However, these fat-based nanoparticles have been known to accumulate in organs, causing health concerns. That’s why creating water-soluble CBD has been an emerging industry priority.

      CBD-infused beverages are poised to become the next big thing and create massive economic growth—despite strict industry regulations. Scientific advancements and changing laws will unlock the potential of the CBD market, potentially disrupting the entire beverage industry.

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How Consumers Are Shaping Cannabis Consumption

Cannabis consumers could spend up to $10.5B on concentrates by 2022—and they’re increasingly relying on the influence of branding to make their choices.

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How Consumers Are Shaping Cannabis Consumption

The cannabis industry continues to reach new heights, and according to market analysts, global legal spending on cannabis could reach $32 billion by 2022 — a majority of which is thanks to U.S. and Canadian consumers.

What’s driving the evolution of the market?

Cannabis is in the midst of a shakeup, and today’s infographic from Ionic Brands highlights how consumers are significantly shaping the landscape of cannabis.

Cannabis Concentrates: A New Frontier

For years, joints and blunts dominated the industry—but sales of traditional flower are swiftly losing ground to new products. Here’s how cannabis consumer spending looks across North America in a few short years:

Product typeFlowerEdiblesConcentratesOther
2017$4.2B$1B$1.9B$1.3B
2022E$10.5B$4.1B$10.5B$4.1B
% Market Share↓ 14pp
From 50% to 36%
↑ 2pp
From 12% to 14%
↑ 13pp
From 23% to 36%
↓ 1pp
From 15% to 14%
CAGR20%33%41%26%

Cannabis consumers are clearly moving away from simply smoking the product. Concentrates are the fastest growing industry segment, which is not surprising since they’re needed to make all sorts of products, from edibles to topicals and tinctures. Cannabis concentrates are also discreet, convenient, and more potent than other cannabis products, all of which contribute to their consumer appeal.

In fact, these changing preferences are disrupting other mammoth industries. Take JUUL Labs for example: the inconspicuous, smokeless device is chipping away at the tobacco industry, and now accounts for almost 73% of the e-cigarette market. JUUL’s growth is proof that consumers are driving the market, and this trend is also reflected in cannabis.

Among all cannabis concentrate types, vaporizers (vapes) overwhelmingly come out on top in established markets, accounting for 43% of sales in Colorado, 70% in Oregon, and 79% in California.

Concentrate Sales (2018, Jan-Jun)VapeWaxShatterLive ResinOilsOthers
Colorado$97M$17M$16M$29M$12M$14M
Oregon$60M-$10M$4M$5M$8M
California$282M14M$14M$21M-$42M

Branding is Everything in Cannabis

The cannabis concentrates space is becoming increasingly sophisticated. With more money to be made from less product, concentrates offer higher margins as well. But in a fragmented market, brand recognition is arguably the biggest factor guiding consumer demand.

Returning to JUUL’s example, the company’s branding played a big hand in its accelerated trajectory—and in grabbing the attention of major players like Altria, the corporate parent of Marlboro. Altria made a landmark investment into 35% of JUUL in December 2018, bringing the latter’s value up to $38 billion.

In the nascent cannabis industry, consumers are still wondering who they can trust. A recent survey revealed that 72% of cannabis consumers rated branding as somewhat or very important in assessing a product’s quality and safety. Branded cannabis products are on the rise, but they’re not as established as Starbucks coffee or Apple iPhones quite yet.

When done right, cannabis concentrates brands are able to capture quite a significant chunk of the market:

  • California
    Top 10 brands: 48.4%
    All other: 51.6%
  • Colorado
    Top 10 brands: 46.6%
    All other: 53.4%
  • Oregon
    Top 10 brands: 59.7%
    All other: 40.3%

In a budding industry, such brand market domination is an impressive feat. However, a few barriers still stand in the way of these brands’ ability to scale on a national level: cannabis and related products aren’t legal in every U.S. state, while diverse state regulations also complicate the process.

Cannabis consumer brands that can spread out into multiple states, and develop consumer trust, will emerge as winners in this new, dynamic market.

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