A recent poll found that 63 percent of Americans support the federal legalization of cannabis. As states continue to legalize both recreational and medical, more and more people will be looking to cannabis to treat and prevent various ailments and illnesses. As the consumer becomes increasingly more educated about cannabis products and how they can be used to address these ailments, budtenders will also be expected to be informed and able to serve consumers based on their individual needs.
In today’s market, various strains combined with different delivery systems equate to thousands of product offerings in which a budtender must be conversant. Instead of knowing what each individual product does, it is important and more practical for a budtender to be diagnostic in his or her approach to understand a consumer's needs in order to guide them to the most appropriate product.
What is the ECS?
While those in the industry are well-versed, most consumers are not aware that the reason cannabis reacts with the human body is because within every human body exists an endocannabinoid system that cannabis engages on an individualized level.
Similar to the central nervous system, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is comprised of three parts: endocannabinoids, receptors in the nervous system and enzymes. The ECS plays a role in homeostasis, mood regulation and the way the body interacts with cannabinoids.
The ECS has receptors that receive and interact with cannabinoids, and at the same time the ECS produces its own natural cannabinoids. Because all humans have unique chemical and genetic makeup, cannabinoids—even those delivered at the same dosage and via the same delivery method—can interact differently with each individual.
Why do cannabinoids work with the ECS?
Many consumers come into a dispensary looking to alleviate or address a specific ailment. This means it’s imperative budtenders understand why and how cannabis interacts with the human body.
THC and CBD chemical structure is similar to those of brain chemicals already naturally produced by the human body, making it easy for the body to recognize and interact with these compounds. Cannabinoids naturally found in the human body, or endogenous cannabinoids, send chemical messages between nerve cells through the nervous system. Because of its similarity in molecular structure, THC can attach to and interfere with cannabinoid receptors, altering things like thinking, memory, movement, coordination, pleasure and the reward system within the brain. Thus, knowing the dosage and strain of THC is key in recommending products to consumers that interact with the endogenous cannabinoid system.
Which product is right for the customer?
Depending on what the consumer would like to address specifically with cannabis, delivery method is also key. For example, menstrual pains, which are often accompanied by indigestion and nausea, would be best treated by a sublingual tincture treatment, as it works quickly and doesn’t upset the stomach. Inhaling with menstrual cramps could increase pain by causing the consumer to cough, and an edible could be difficult to digest while already suffering from intestinal discomfort.
When it comes to something like sore muscles or inflammation, a topical salve works well by being absorbed easily into the skin, targeting achy muscles and joints so that the consumer can treat localized pain by targeting a specific treatment area.
With so many possible treatment combinations, a manual or product training guide that a budtender could reference in-store and that the customer could reference after they leave would be beneficial in ensuring they are recommending appropriate products to consumers. Additionally, ongoing training and/or certification on these training manuals would ensure budtenders are properly equipped to recommend the most effective products to meet consumer needs.
How can budtenders learn dosages?
While the adult-use cannabis market has been booming in many states, it is easy to forget that many consumers visiting dispensaries have never consumed cannabis before. When suggesting dosages, budtenders should encourage consumers to start low and go slow. Many edibles, for example, come in a 10-mg serving, but those who are less familiar in cannabis consumption could be sensitive to this otherwise standard dose. A 10-mg dose could be perfectly fine for some, but it could easily be enough THC to send someone with less cannabis familiarity over the edge. Depending on the consumer’s needs, starting with micro doses, such as 1 mg to 2.5 mg every 60 to 90 minutes, is the best way to ensure one doesn’t overdo it.
It is important that budtenders are also aware of the importance of the CBD to THC ratio of a product. When used in combination with one another, they can modulate each ratio to optimize the desired effects of the condition-specific product.
For example, consider a 3:1 THC to CBD ratio for sleep., The small portion of CBD helps to aid in the support of body relaxation while the THC supports mental calming. This is an example of the importance in explaining to consumers how cannabinoids are beneficial in a product’s overall effectiveness to achieve the results they are seeking.
And while tinctures and inhalants can take effect right away, edibles can take hours, depending on the person. Varying titration factors such as body size and weight, and whether the individual is consuming on a full or empty stomach, can have a drastic impact on when maximum effects will be felt. Extraction methods and varying additives can also have an impact on how cannabis impacts a person, so recommending the purest product possible is always the safest route to satisfaction.
As the industry evolves, so must the education of cannabis, cannabinoids and the ECS. Providing ongoing brand education, resources and workshops for continued learning are imperative to customer satisfaction. Well-informed budtenders who are able to recommend the most appropriate products for consumers will be the difference between success and failure in this rapidly growing industry.
Julie Raque is the vice president of marketing at Cannabistry. With a background in pharmacology, Julie focused the first 10 years of her career in various marketing roles at both established and emerging pharmaceutical and biotech companies including: Horizon Pharma, Gilead Sciences and Avexis Pharmaceuticals. Julie’s career path provided her the experience to successfully launch highly valued pharmaceutical products, including the blockbuster drug, HARVONI, in a strict regulatory environment. The majority of her career has focused on leading the development and implementation of marketing and communications strategies in both domestic and international markets.
Since 2017, Julie has brought her experience to the cannabis industry as a part of Cannabistry, a cannabis research and development organization. As VP of Marketing, she leads a multifunctional team focused on building and implementing go-to-market launch plans for differentiated products in this highly competitive space.
Julie received her B.S. in Psychology from the University of Kentucky and her M.S. in Pharmacology from the University of Cincinnati.