Monitor: Weed legalization informs natural and organic industry trends

Since Colorado legalized recreational cannabis sales, a wide range of natural and organic products have been influenced by the movement. Learn more.

Douglas Brown, Senior Retail Reporter

May 16, 2024

4 Min Read
Monitor: Weed legalization informs natural and organic industry trends

Ten years ago, cannabis dispensaries in Colorado began selling aromatic flower buds, berry-flavored gummies and THC-infused cold sodas to anybody 21 years or older. In the decade since Colorado became the first state to allow sales of recreational cannabis, another 23 states have followed. Meanwhile, 38 states permit medical sales (some of those states, like Colorado, offer both recreational and medical sales). And 11 more states could embrace some form of legal marijuana sales in 2024.

A plant that just 15 years ago remained largely taboo, and highly illegal, today is becoming nearly as commonplace as one of its botanical compounds, CBD—a natural and non-psychoactive chemical found in Cannabis sativa, the plant that gives us both THC-rich marijuana and hemp, which contains minuscule amounts of THC.

Many natural and organic retailers carry a diversity of CBD products. But as products containing THC are largely relegated to licensed dispensaries, the weed craze has eluded the industry. It’s not likely to change soon.

Widespread normalization of cannabis, however, has impacted the natural and organic products industry, even if retailers don’t stock psychoactive chocolate bars on store shelves.

For one thing, the relaxation of stigmas surrounding the plant contributed toward the commercial flowering of CBD, which loads of retailers carry in abundance thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, a measure that legalized low-THC hemp nationwide.

Related:The Editor's Take: Turbulence in omega-3 market makes alternatives to fish oil imperative

Even more, the steady march of cannabis legalization—born out of a medical movement beginning in the 1990s—persuaded consumers to think more broadly about plant compounds and the effects they can ripen in the human body.

It was in the wake of waves of cannabis legalization, for example, that mushrooms went from ingredients meant for pizzas to plants that bring about a wide range of potential health benefits. According to Nutrition Business Journal, sales of mushroom supplements expanded 16.9% in 2023. NBJ concluded that the mushroom supplement market was $256.5 million larger in 2023 than in 2018.

As the popularity of mushrooms went viral, the legality of one kind of mushroom—the “magic” kind, psilocybin—also shifted. Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin in 2019. Today, many more municipalities and some states have decriminalized and legalized psilocybin, with the intention hinging on mental health applications.

The rise of one kind of mushroom as a potential health tonic helps to explain the wellness buzz surrounding mushrooms in general—the chagas and reishis, the Lion’s Manes and cordyceps. And that industry-darling ‘shroom movement is built, in part, on the shoulders of cannabis.

Related:NY judge strikes down most of CRN’s case against new law

The explosion of interest around mushrooms certainly informs the rise of nootropics, a category of products including supplements, beverages and bars, that aim to bolster cognitive functions, including focus, attention and memory. Nutrition Business Journal anticipates 8.1% CAGR for nootropics through 2026—and mushrooms are key to nootropics.

Another category impacted by years of health messaging tied to cannabis? Adaptogens—specifically turmeric and ashwagandha. Turmeric’s climb peaked in 2018, when sales growth reached 17%. Its star has dimmed since, but ashwagandha now shines in the botanical firmament. Sales of ashwagandha, which people take to manage everything from inflammation to anxiety and lethargy, vaulted up 14% in 2023, far outpacing overall growth in the supplements industry, which grew by 2.6% in 2023.

Cannabis legalization is not solely responsible for the introduction of words like nootropics, adaptogens, the endocannabinoid system and other once-esoteric terms into casual conversation. But as dispensaries spread from California to Maine, media coverage about the plant exploded—and so did quite a bit of wellness talk.

No other raw plant, perhaps ever, rivals cannabis for the volume of news coverage that it hatched in just 10 years. This unique, fast-growing plant sparked an eruption of health, business and culture media coverage, including a wilderness of media properties and conferences that revolve entirely around the plant. All of that activity since 2014 precipitated ripples that spread in a variety of directions, from plant extraction technologies to greenhouse innovations and, yes, to the rise of an American zeitgeist and commercial marketplace dense with nootropic mushroom tinctures, inflammation-fighting adaptogen gummies and endocannabinoid-bolstering CBD drinks.

Editor's note: The New York Times on Thursday reported that President Joe Biden's administration has proposed a rule to move marijuana to a less-restrictive category of drugs.

About the Author(s)

Douglas Brown

Senior Retail Reporter, New Hope Network

Subscribe and receive the latest updates on trends, data, events and more.
Join 57,000+ members of the natural products community.

You May Also Like