Mood-specific formulas that tout curated experiences are the latest trend in the cannabis marketplace
A common gripe for many cannabis users is the unpredictability of the experience. Particularly for novices, those trying new products or others who’ve accidentally smoked or ingested a higher dosage than usual, it’s not uncommon to have a very different high than expected. If you’ve ever toked up in hopes of a relaxing night and an early bedtime only to be buzzing with energy and mind-blowing notions until the wee hours instead, you’ve experienced this issue.
Unpredictability is a problem particularly in unregulated markets where a product’s origin is murky. The legalization of cannabis has helped because regulation brings better standardization. In a licensed dispensary, you can feel confident that the cannabis you buy won’t be combined with an unlabeled, possibly unhealthy, substance. The THC and CBD content will be clearly marked—as will in some cases other cannabinoids such as CBN and THCV, as well as terpenes.
However, some people still find consuming cannabis to be unpredictable and others simply want more subtlety from their weed. And as brands move to promote cannabis lifestyle products that can be integrated into many different activities, it’s natural that they’d also tout specific, desired effects as selling points.
Enter mood-specific formulas
These relatively new kinds of products are meant to produce “bespoke highs,” or “directional highs.” In any dispensary today, you’re bound to encounter a dizzying array of products that promise to help increase focus and concentration, connect socially or have better orgasms. The bold copy from flower company Canndescent reads: “If you can answer the simple question, ’How do I want to feel?’ you can use our effects and ultra-premium products to curate your cannabis experience to maximize life to the fullest.”
Moving way beyond the outdated indica/sativa dichotomy, cannabis entrepreneurs are selling the hope of a specific kind of experience, a tailored and curated one. Andy Singh, founder of the vaporizer company Nuvata, told SN&R, that part of his motivation to craft directional highs was to address users’ desire for more subtle and predictable experiences with cannabis.
“They ate an edible, or they smoked a 90% THC cart … and it was overwhelming,” he said of consumers he’d interviewed. “I wanted to help troubleshoot those problems.”
Particularly, when it comes to enhanced and manufactured products such as vapes, teas, tinctures and edibles, the “directional high” approach seems to be speaking to consumers’ wants.
The building blocks
How exactly do cannabis companies craft mood-specific formulas? One way is by playing with the THC to CBD ratios as well as those of other cannabinoids—such as CBN for sleep, or THCV for energy and focus. The second way is by adding terpenes, which burn off in the process of extracting THC and CBD, back into the final product. Those terpenes can be cannabis-derived, or can come from other botanical sources such as foods and essential oils. They are believed to influence the direction of the high toward creativity, focus, energy or sensuality, as the desired mood requires. And the third way is by combining cannabis with herbs, vitamins or other substances including nootropics (so-called brain boosters).
The two female founders of cannabis tea company Kikoko interviewed hundreds of women to understand their most persistent needs.
“It turns out those were commonly sleep, anxiety, stress, pain, cramps, mood and low libido,” co-founder Amanda Jones said. “We decided if we could help with these things by providing a healthier alternative to pharmaceuticals, we were doing women a great service.”
Kikoko’s main product line includes a tea to improve mood, another for sensuality and better sex, a pain-relieving tea and one that promotes sleep with a combination of the cannabinoid CBN and a low dose of THC. Each formulation blends cannabis oil with herbs—such as chamomile and valerian, featured in the sleep formula—for a synergistic effect.
And cannabis consumers seem to want what they’re selling: According to BDS Analytics, Kikoko, which is found in nearly all California dispensaries, is the No. 1 selling cannabis beverage in the state.
Nuvata manipulates THC to CBD ratios as well as the terpene content in its mind-body series, which targets consumers seeking a cerebral high, a body high and everything in between. “With cannabis, you can stimulate almost every type of activity you engage in,” Singh said. “We created a mind to body spectrum, and each unit in that spectrum can enhance where you’re spending your time—whether you’re working, doing yoga, socializing or something else.”
He calls terpene enhancement the “fascinating frontier of cannabis innovation,” because of its potential to influence the ways people experience, think about and consume cannabis.
But do they work?
According to Kikoko’s Jones, “the feedback we get is that most people experience Sympa-Tea as very relaxing and Sensual-Tea as a social and sexual lubricant, so to speak.” But she’s also quick to acknowledge that variations in each person’s endocannabinoid system (the internal system of receptors that helps regulate mood, sleep and inflammation) indicate that, “everyone experiences our products differently.”
Singh of Nuvata, while also acknowledging the inherent differences between individuals’ endocannabinoid systems, said, “almost everyone says that it does exactly what it says on the packaging.”
For instance, limonene is a terpene that, according to Singh, “will energize 90% of people,” while linalool (found in certain strains of cannabis as well as in lavender) “will relax 90% of people.” He said his aim is to create the kinds of cannabinoid and terpene combinations that ensure consumers, “know what they’re getting into every single time.”
Research indicates that terpenes do affect human behavior, both alone and when mixed with cannabinoids. Ethan Russo wrote in the British Journal of Pharmacology, “[Terpenes and terpenoids] display unique therapeutic effects that may contribute meaningfully to the entourage effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts.”
However, the precise ways these terpenes interact with cannabis is not fully known. Cannabis educator and industry consultant Emma Chasen told SN&R in an email that research is still in early stages on the synergistic potential between cannabinoids as well as between the various cannabinoids and terpenes and other compounds.
So while it’s possible to make “informed predictions,” about how a formulation will affect consumers, it’s not yet possible to promise specific and consistent outcomes because, “everyone has their own unique endocannabinoid tone and physiology that is constantly in flux. Factors such as nutrition, hydration, stress, sleep patterns, mental health, etc., affect how people will respond to cannabis.”
In legal markets, cannabis entrepreneurs are positioning their products more as lifestyle enhancements than as a way to get unbelievably high. Even among experienced users, microdosing in search of more subtle and predictable experiences is on the rise. It’s inevitable that as the industry continues to mature and consumers become more knowledgeable, cannabis entrepreneurs will respond by promising increasingly tailored and specific kinds of experiences.
Even though there’s still plenty that’s unknown about crafting bespoke highs, it’s becoming clear that people are willing to research, shop around and ultimately pay more for the experience they want.