Beyond High: Talking Cannabis Effects in Canada
‘High’ is the effect term most closely associated with cannabis consumption. But the post-legalization campaign in Canada interprets this term in a harsh light. You’ll have seen the Canadian ads: young folks cruising in a car, blissful and oblivious, joints making the rounds. There follows a screech of brakes, a crash, a hailstorm of shattered glass, and the message: Don’t Drive High! “High’, it seems, is the new synonym for ’drunk,’ ‘intoxicated,’ and ‘impaired’. Meanwhile, there are severe legal limits on what cannabis producers and retailers can say about effects. For clinicians, producers, and marketers aiming to normalize cannabis, these conditions make it difficult to speak publicly in a nuanced, and adequate effects language. In response, some marketers are searching for creative, lexical ways to work within these restrictions.
What Government Says
Health Canada does not permit cannabis producers, or marketers, to offer information on effects. Producers are limited to providing scientific information on the plant, and on compounds present in cultivars for sale. Retailers are further restricted to information on price and availability. Health Canada itself, however, maintains a fact sheet on effects. Here’s what you’ll find. For every possible short-term positive effect, a negative is listed, with no account of the statistical likelihood that either will occur. You could experience relaxation, and feelings of well-being; you could panic, and become paranoid. Long-term effects are all listed as negatives, and include permanent cognitive impairment. Imagine a fact sheet on air travel effects written in this format. No information on statistics is offered; and each benefit, such as cultural education, or enjoyment, is paired, one to one, with a danger such as being hijacked, or bombed. Would you risk it?
Provinces maintain websites on cannabis too. Five provinces, BC, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland, plus Nunavut, simply link back to HC’s site on effects, thus closing the information loop. Two provinces, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia, list only negative effects; Quebec lists 6 positives to 11 negatives; Ontario offers a balance. At time of writing, Prince Edward Island’s site on effects was non-functional.
How Licensed Producers Cope
Dr. Zeid Mohamedali, Chief Medical Officer, of Zenabis Global Inc., consults regularly with patients ranging from 68 to 94 years of age. His strategy is to foster a positive mindset by explaining that many currently accepted medicines, like coumadin, are plant-based; and that cannabis in particular has been consumed for millennia, with little apparent harm. Mohamedali, who must discuss effects, frames discussions strictly in terms of desired outcomes. If pain reduction is the goal, and is achieved, he calls it the effect. If there is mood elevation as well, he calls it a side effect, though still, in his view, beneficial.
LP marketers toe a finer line. Mandeep Khara is Zenabis’ Vice President of Marketing. His message is simple. Cannabis is “heavily regulated;” and for Zenabis, “compliance is a key value.” The LP focuses solely on educating the public on the cannabis plant, on maintaining transparency in describing its products, and on communicating clearly with retailers. It does not discuss effects.
Enter the Curators
Some adjunct marketers, however, have cut a path around the regulations by creating a new discursive space, free from hackneyed expressions like stoned, or high. Martin Strazovec, Executive VP, and Chief Creative Officer of AHLOT, is an example. AHLOT stands for A Higher Level of Thought. The company partners with LPs, offering customers “themed, one-gram sample mix packs” of curated (thoughtfully chosen) cannabis buds. AHLOT bills its style as transmodern, a philosophy that emphasizes inclusiveness; it promotes cannabis as “part of the contemplative, creative, examined life.”
AHLOT is not alone. Google cannabis curators, and you will get 902,000 results in .72 seconds. Lisa Campbell is CEO of Lifford Cannabis Solutions. Her marketing firm, which supports AHLOT, describes cultivar effects in mood words, such as calming, energizing, or sedating. Gill Pollard, publisher of Her(B)Life, and regular contributor to TheGrowthOp, favours the term, ‘elevated.’ To Pollard, it denotes homeostasis, and comfort, both conditions of health.
What Scholars Say
For nuanced discussions on effects, consumers must turn to more scholarly sources. Mitch Earleywine’s Understanding Marijuana; and Dr. Andrew Weil’s Chocolate to Morphine, provide well considered information. A topic they share with the new marketers is the longstanding association of cannabis with spirituality and ritual. In a study cited by Earleywine, 65% of consumers stated that cannabis helped them to tap into a larger consciousness. And as Weil notes, it is common to pair the use of such psychoactives with rituals. AHLOT markets a “ritual box,” advertised by Her(B)Life, and Lifford, featuring sleekly designed tools geared to cannabis consumption. The phrase invites consumers to situate cannabis accoutrements alongside wine goblets, and cappuccino bowls; and their use with wedding toasts, and coffee breaks. In the bid for normalization, a new cannabis lexicon, it seems, is on the rise.