CBD: the next big opportunity?

CBD source the cannabis plant

With global giants like Coca-Cola and Molson Coors embracing CBD and an increasing number of suppliers entering the fray, is it time local retailers in Scotland got in on the ground floor?

by Antony Begley


Cannabis. The very word is enough to provoke a strong reaction in most retailers, either a positive one or a negative one, depending upon their views and life experiences. No one is ambivalent when it comes to cannabis, so you can expect a fair amount of forthright reaction to the potential introduction of a new product category that is heavily linked to it.

Welcome to the challenge of bringing the CBD category to local retailing stores in Scotland.

But if it’s such a controversial area, why are global giants like Coca Cola and Molson Coors showing lots of interest in CBD? Molson Coors has recently gone as far as forming a joint venture with HEXO, a recreational cannabis brand from Quebec to make non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused drinks for the Canadian market.

Do Coca Cola and Molson Coors know something we don’t? Probably.

But there’s a long way to go in the UK before CBD becomes mainstream. Ask a load of retailers what they think of CBD as a potential growth area in local retailing in Scotland, as I have done, and you generally get one of two responses:

  1. What’s CBD?
  2. Cannabis? I don’t want a load of stoners coming to my shop

So, first things first. What is CBD? Well, CBD is an acronym for cannabidiol, one of over 100 different ‘cannabinoids’ found in the cannabis plant. The other famous cannabinoid found in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC as any good stoner will be able to tell you. THC is the psychoactive chemical that gets you high.

To answer the obvious question, no, CBD won’t get you high. By law, CBD products sold in the UK must contain no more than 0.2% THC.

That’s the first myth dispelled, as Craig Johnston, co-founder of Hamilton-based Hope CBD comments: “I think lots of retailers are worried that selling CBD is going to attract a lot of stoners to their store when in fact it’s far more likely to attract people with a range of ailments both minor and serious.”

It’s also no coincidence that Holland & Barratt was the first major retailer in the UK to start selling CBD lines over the counter – and that was more than a year ago. The health food retailers is hardly the sort of business to court controversy and, indeed, CBD lines are officially classified as food supplements.

Hope CBD recently took over the sponsorship of the stadium of Scottish Premier League team Hamilton Accies whose Chief Executive Colin McGowan – Johnston’s co-founder in Hope – became a convert to the CBD cause a few years back when his wife successfully used CBD products to treat her fibromyalgia.

“If you visited the Hope CBD shop in the stadium on a match day, you’d see that we get a lot of customers but probably not the type you’re expecting,” says Johnston. “People use it to treat a whole range of conditions and while we are unable to make any health claims for CBD products, we know that CBD is non-psychoactive and non-addictive and has been shown to provide many benefits. We always advise our customers to do their own research on the benefits.”

That research will throw up endless examples of people successfully using CBD to treat a whole array of serious ailments and conditions including fibromyalgia, arthritis, epilepsy and anxiety.

CBD: the lowdown

What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical found in the cannabis plant that is part of a group of chemicals called cannabinoids. The cannabis plant contains over 100 cannabinoids with the two best known being CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It’s THC that gets you high.

So CBD won’t get me high?
No, CBD is non-psychoactive so does not cause users to feel high or ‘stoned’.

Is it legal?
Yes, CBD products are legal if they contain no THC. Or, to be more precise, as long as they contain no more than 0.2% THC.

What is CBD used for?
CBD is a significant research topic in the scientific community and has been linked to a number of effects such as reducing inflammation, pain and anxiety.

Are there any side effects?
Side effects of CBD use have been studied and reported side effects have included drowsiness, low blood pressure and light-headedness but it is widely believed that at low doses CBD is tolerated well by the body.

Is it addictive?
No.

Which formats is CBD available in?

You name it, you can find a CBD version these days. Soft drinks, lollipops, teas, beers and vaping liquids, to name but a few.

How do shoppers use CBD e-liquids?
CBD e-liquids are for use exclusively in vape devices. As with nicotine containing e-liquids, the amount or frequency of use is completely up to personal choice. Most suppliers advise to start slow with a low dose then grow from there.

Can they mix it with other e-liquids?
No. Products should always be used in the clean tank with a new coil. It should not be mixed with other e-liquids. CBD e-liquids are best suited to lower powered devices with cotton wicks.

Another company embracing CBD is Liberty Flights, the vaping specialists who have recently formed Eden CBD, a separate company specialising in the area.

Liberty Flights Managing Director Matt Moden told SLR: “We believe that the CBD market will potentially have an even greater disruptive impact than vaping did when it arrived nine or 10 years ago.”

Moden draws a number of parallels between the CBD and vaping categories to justify that belief. He explains: “In its embryonic phase, vaping’s growth was held back by misinformation – “it’s worse for you than cigarettes” – which is something we’re seeing with CBD, such as the misconception that it is the same as cannabis. Both require an educational approach in order to convey the correct messaging. Similarly, both sectors are prohibited from making medicinal claims, yet many people who engage with both products have benefitted from doing so.”

Indeed, the scientific evidence for both categories increasingly looks overwhelming and it may only be a matter of time before this is accepted by the regulatory authorities in the UK.

Liberty Flights has been among the first recognised vaping brands to get to launch stage with a market-ready set of CBD products.

“It takes a long time to jump through the various hoops to bring a CBD product to market,” says Moden. Under its Eden CBD arm, Liberty Flights offers a range of CBD vaping liquids and Moden says the company is actively looking into launching a range of other formats including edible, topical and beverage options.

Another interesting point that Moden makes is that Google searches for the term ‘CBD’ now dwarf those for nicotine-based e-liquids. He comments: “The CBD market in the US is immense, around $10bn, and the European market is somewhere around the €5-6 bn mark. We are very confident that demand will rise dramatically in the UK and it’s up to local retailers to be ready when it does.”

CBD is going global

We may be slow to adopt CBD in the UK, but many global brands are already ahead embracing cannabis:

  • Molson Coors has formed a joint venture with recreational cannabis brand HEXO to make non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused drinks for the Canadian market.
  • Coca-Cola is reportedly in talks with Canadian company Aurora Cannabis to produce drinks enhanced with CBD.
  • Constellation Brands has acquired a stake in Canopy Growth, a Canadian medical marijuana company.
  • Heineken-owned Lagunitas Brewing has unveiled a THC-infused sparkling water for sale at California dispensaries.

While it is difficult to get hold of reliable figures for the UK market, one estimate is that the category is currently worth around £50m a year but virtually all estimates rate the size of the market by the end of this decade in the billions of pounds.

Bearing in mind the local retailing sector’s frankly abysmal attempts in the vaping category – only securing about 15% of the £1bn market – does this new opportunity offer a fresh chance to steal a march on our competitors in a category that’s potentially even bigger?

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