The largest comprehensive study of marijuana users is under way. BDS Analytics is working on the industry's first scientifically rigorous consumer-research survey about cannabis consumption. Headed by Linda Gilbert, a market research veteran, the team is conducting a nationwide survey of 1,000 people in every state who are deemed demographically representative.
"Everyone in the business has common questions, but nobody has any answers," Gilbert says. "We want to understand not just where consumers are right now at this point in time, but where have they been, and where they seem to be headed. This is not an advocacy study. We want to understand the general marketplace."
Many of those in the marijuana industry would attest that most of the assumptions about their businesses are inaccurate — and BDS agrees. That's why Gilbert wants this study to take a scientific approach to what's happening. In order to do so, the team conducted four focus groups in metro Denver — which determined that much of what the supposed experts had told them to expect didn't play out.
One common assumption is that young people are the primary users of cannabis, but the BDS team found that in Colorado, it was easier to recruit people over the age of 35 for the survey. The team had also been told that people mostly use the drug recreationally, on the weekends or on vacation — but when the members started doing initial research in Colorado, they had a hard time finding people who don't use cannabis daily.
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Gilbert was especially surprised to find that marijuana is helping older people become more active. "Particularly among the older people, they enjoy going on long walks more," she explains. "It's more pleasant for them to go out. They're not in pain, they're getting out and being more active and more social. People in their fifties and sixties started using it in high school to party, but are now using it for very specific quality-of-life and medical benefits."
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While in Colorado, the BDS group visited dispensaries, where Gilbert was surprised to find young people shopping with their parents. "I'm from Pennsylvania. This is blowing my mind," she says.
BDS has come up with its own questions for the study, but it's also accepting questions — for a fee — from investors, marijuana companies and anyone else involved in the cannabis industry. For $20,000, a business will get the whole BDS package, including research from the first four states, 4,000 consumer interviews, and their own proprietary questions in the survey.