As the purchase of cannabis becomes legalized in US states, cannabis marketing presents an unexplored regulatory landscape. Research examining other consumer products indicates marketing informs consumer product perceptions, use expectancies, and behavior. The current study examined how cannabis products are described on US cannabis retailer websites.
We used the National Cannabis Industry Association website to identify 27 retailers, linked to brick-and-mortar locations in six states, who advertised cannabis flower products online, and thematically coded descriptions of each product sold (N=428).
Cannabis strain product descriptions fell into six categories: psychoactive effects, physical effects, social effects, sensory profile, therapeutic and curative claims, and negatives/warnings. Relaxation/stress relief (47.4%) and happiness (43.9%) were the most commonly described psychoactive effects, and relaxation/sedation was the most common physical effect (41.6%). Many products noted sensory characteristics, such as fruity (38.1%) or sweet (31.3%) taste/smell. A significant number of retailers claimed that strains could relieve pain and depression. Reports of potential side effects or warnings were less common.
Online cannabis retailers are making potentially unsubstantiated product claims. Future work should examine the potential for these claims to inform consumer behavior. Regulations should ensure that cannabis labeling does not mislead consumers or promote unsafe use.