Cannabis sleep marketing is a growing trend, with many cannabis companies now promoting a variety of products as a natural solution for insomnia and other sleep problems. Cannabis and sleep undeniably have a complex relationship and correlation in many consumers’ minds.
A number of Canadian cannabis brands are beginning to formulate products (specifically edibles) with CBN (and other cannabinoid mixtures) to market to consumers as sleep aids. There may be some validity to the claims and inferences these brands are making, but there are numerous problems with the current state of CBN and cannabis sleep marketing. Let’s explore what those various issues are.
What is CBN?
Cannabinol, commonly referred to as “CBN”, is a naturally occurring compound found in the cannabis plant, but it is not as well-studied as other cannabinoids like THC and CBD. CBN is often described as a less potent version of THC. As cannabis ages or is exposed to heat, sunlight, or other natural factors, the bud’s THC will convert into CBN. This cannabinoid, CBN, does not produce intoxicating effects at low to medium doses but can result in mild intoxication at high doses. Some companies have started to market CBN as a sleep aid and pain reliever, claiming that it can help to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality.
Cannabis Consumers and Sleep
Cannabis and sleep have a deep connection. More cannabis consumers than you would expect report using the plant to assist them in their slumber. According to the Sleep Foundation, “around 70% of young adults that casually use cannabis report that they do so to help them sleep. Among long-term cannabis users (those who have been using it for 10 years or more), about 50% use cannabis to improve their sleep. Among people who use cannabis for medical reasons, such as pain relief, as many as 85% say it improves their sleep”. This shows that recreational and medical cannabis consumers alike are looking for cannabis-related products to help them with rest and relaxation.
The Problem with CBN
The problem is that there is only limited scientific evidence to support the claims made by companies claiming or inferring that CBN can help with insomnia and related disorders. Many experts remain skeptical about the efficacy and benefits of CBN for sleep.
Harvard Medical School’s Beyond CBD: Here come the other cannabinoids, but where’s the evidence states that “CBN is widely marketed for its sedative and sleep-inducing qualities, but if you review the literature, it is interesting to note that there is virtually no scientific evidence that CBN makes you sleepy.” and a published research paper by the University of California San Diego titled Cannabinol and Sleep: Separating Fact from Fiction explains “In recent years, marketers of cannabis products have claimed that cannabinol (CBN) has unique sleep-promoting effects. Despite a plausible mechanism, it is possible that such claims are merely rooted in cannabis lore.”
While some animal studies have shown that CBN can increase the amount of time spent in deep sleep, the results have not been reliably replicated in human studies. For now, the data we have is mostly anecdotal or based on animal research. Creating entire product categories based on unsubstantiated animal studies and “cannabis lore” is not sufficient. As marketers and product formulators, we must challenge ourselves to do better.
Cannabis, CBN and Sleep Marketing
”Canadian LPs and American brands continue to make correlations between CBN and sleep, suggesting that consuming a low-dose CBN extract will result in a better night's rest. More than ever, category leaders are featuring the same product marketing playbook for CBN edibles.Cam MacNeil, freelance cannabis consultant and former Director of Global Product Development (Beverages & Edibles) at Canopy Growth Corporation
When analyzing the marketing and branding for CBN-dominant cannabis products in the USA and Canada, a few trends become clear. Every brand appears to be using the same naming conventions that include “Moon”, “Dream”, or “Night”. Every product formulation is berry-flavoured and the proportions of THC:CBD:CBN are generally uniform across the industry. It’s clear that every brand is utilizing the same deep blue and purple colour-scheme for their packaging and digital promotional assets. These brands all feature the same crescent moon and cloud iconography. And for the most part, these brands all feature inferences that their product offerings can help consumers sleep with taglines such as:
- “Reminiscent of evening and nighttime routines”
- “Designed specifically with sleep in mind”
- “Gets you closer to Shut Eye time”
Not many brand and product claims in the Canadian cannabis industry are backed with any sort of scientific or anecdotal evidence. Brands should be using marketing and R&D dollars to conduct surveys and studies with cannabis users to find the truly best solutions for their needs. A brand conducting a nationwide survey and finding a compliant way to produce an article or white paper detailing that “9 in 10 Canadian cannabis consumers find that CBN promotes a deep restful sleep” (for example) would be a compelling marketing campaign. There has been a dearth of such research up until this point.
The Future of Cannabis, Sleep and Marketing
After additional studies are published, we may very well find a strong scientific connection between the cannabinoid CBN and the promotion of deep, restful sleep. However, more research is needed to confidently make those statements. Marketers and those in charge of product formulation must challenge themselves to ask the right questions and think deeper about consumer need states and the corresponding offerings. We must not limit ourselves to “CBN promotes sleep” and “we’ll market that to consumers using purple and blue moon-inspired imagery”. We must go deeper.
Some of the questions marketers and product formulation teams should be asking are:
“Is there other cannabinoids that CBN can be combined with to result in the best sleep long-term? Is it CBD? THC? CBG? A combination of a few of them? In what proportions? In what quantities? Are there specific terpenes that CBN is typically associated with that are actually producing the sleep-inducing benefit instead of the cannabinoid itself? Is it a combination of these terpenes and CBN and/or other cannabinoids? Is the type of sleep that CBN promotes truly restful? Does it promote recovery long-term? Does CBN have any side effects such as being lethargic? If so, what other (compliant) ingredients or cannabinoids could be combined with it to offset these side effects?”
We cannot stop at CBN = sleep. This way of thinking is too simplistic and is a disservice to both brands and consumers alike. By asking questions like this about all need states and formulating product offerings as solutions, cannabis marketers can truly take this industry to the next level in a scientific yet exciting manner.
”“In 2023, I hope to see less snake oil and more science from the cannabis industry. Is that too much to ask?”Cam MacNeil