Joint Ventures

Here’s Why We’ve Been Getting Stoned Alone—and Why That’s About to Change

Nearly half of cannabis consumers get high on their lonesome, according to a new study shared exclusively with The Daily Beast.

Baz Ratner/Reuters

In modern America, the act of drinking alcohol alone carries a worrisome stigma.

Sure, humor mag Modern Drunkard celebrates the act in a Bacchus-worshipping essay titled The Zen of Drinking Alone. But the search results that follow paint a different picture entirely, with HuffPo asking Is Drinking Alone an Early Warning Sign? and the Wall Street Journal ruminating on Drinking Alone: A Bad Idea or a Toast to Oneself?

But does alcohol’s stigma extend to other recreationally available substances? For example, is getting stoned by yourself the same as getting drunk on your lonesome?

It’s a valid question after November’s election, which proved the Ganja Revolution is real. As eight of nine states with cannabis referendums said yes to legal medical or recreational weed on Election Day, the most sweeping change to American drug policy in decades grew even deeper roots—flying directly in the face of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is doing his best to stage a real-life revival of Reefer Madness.

A lot of these questions about our cannabis use are coming at a logical time in the legalization cycle, which I’ve described before as: Legalization —> Normalization —> Commercialization.

Part of normalized cannabis is the gathering of sales, tax and consumption data to help us understand this newly legal recreational substance and its impact on our health and communities.

We’re woefully behind on this specific data collection for a number of reasons—federal government interference, anyone?—but that void makes these early days of discovery all the more thrilling.

More than three years into the world’s first retail pot sales and we’re now answering long-held questions that, before this, were little more than far-fetched hypotheticals. We’re finding out that teen marijuana consumption is either staying level or going down in states with adult-use cannabis sales. We’re finding out that fewer people are being cited for driving under the influence of marijuana in some legal markets. And we’re finding out that nearly half of cannabis consumers in California and Colorado usually get high alone.

That last statistic comes from a new quantitative trend-tracking study shared exclusively with The Daily Beast. Among people who have consumed cannabis in the last six months, 48 percent of Californians and 42 percent of Coloradans get high on their lonesome, according to the study conducted by BDS Analytics.

“I was startled by that,” said Linda Gilbert, a matter-of-fact 30-year veteran of Fortune 500 consumer research who now works with BDS Analytics, a business that collects, tracks and studies point-of-sale data among cannabis companies. “I thought cannabis was much more of a social drug.”

Startling, indeed. In my own experience, I prefer to get high among others. I appreciate how a solid microdose of psychoactive cannabinoid THC alters the experience of socializing just a smidge—my headspace, (sometimes) my friends’ point of view and the social construct as a whole. Cannabis often takes conversations and nights out in a different and totally unexpected direction, and it’s somewhat rare that I end up getting stoned on my own.

It also makes sense, given the prohibition we’re finally emerging from, that a consumer would get high alone. But my guess is that this statistic will likely change significantly in the decade to come—but I’ll come back to this in a second.

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Perhaps the most telling conclusion from the above finding: That it even exists at all. There is now a company—scratch that, multiple companies—tracking cannabis sales and developing in-depth, never-before-compiled datasets on consumer habits and individual sales categories in the legal retail marijuana space. Of course cannabis has never been more normal in recorded history, and after normalization comes the commercialization of this new industry—and that includes the professional market research that comes along with any major industry.

Gilbert’s employment at a marijuana-centered business also speaks volumes. Her research has helped launch products including Gatorade, Viagra and Frito Lay Naturals, and her list of previous clients reads like a shopping list of America’s most successful brands: Campbell’s, Pfizer, Pepsi, Centrum, Kellogg’s, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Unilever and even retailers such as Walmart, GNC and Whole Foods.

Now Gilbert is crunching data on Cheeba Chews, which is the most recognizable cannabis brand in California and Colorado, according her latest quantitative research, which surveyed 600 individuals in each state, California and Colorado, and has a margin of error at plus or minus 2.2 percentage points. Gilbert said BDS will conduct the same survey in Washington state and Oregon next.

“This is a unique study in that it’s the first that I know of that is scientifically rigorous enough so that it is projectable to the state population at a 95 percent confidence level,” Gilbert said. “The study is representative demographically of each state, matching to seven different census demographics—including age, income, gender, education, region of state, presence of children in the household, etc. We’ve seen other surveys where they interview people who shop at a certain dispensary or belong to a loyalty program, but those are not representative of the state population.

“Studies like this are important, because now we’re learning that cannabis is a part of people’s routines and lifestyles. It’s not just a party drug. We heard from people, and we see this in the data, that it’s very much a part of a lifestyle.”

The cannabis lifestyle, a.k.a. our evolving relationship with this plant-based substance, includes our consumption patterns. Perhaps you prefer to put flame to flower alone while I prefer edibles in the company of others. But when I predicted a shift in the getting-high-alone stats earlier, it’s because everything is about to change in American and Canadian cannabis.

Legalization started slow, with California going medical more than 20 years ago and the recreational states going two-by-two in the 2012 (Colorado and Washington) and 2014 (Oregon and Alaska) elections. But the pace is now picking up, and within the next couple years we’ll see retail pot sales taking place in our most populous state California, our anything-goes playground Nevada, our East Coast outposts Maine and Massachusetts and our neighbor to the north Canada, which will soon become only the second country in the world to federally legalize adult-use weed.

The gentle drip of legalization is now a full-on firehose, and part of the normalization that will follow in these new markets will likely involve a change in our consumption patterns. Buying, growing and consuming cannabis, acts that were once automatic Go-to-Jail offenses, will soon be legal in each of these new markets.

And from the shadows to the light, marijuana aficionados will continue coming out of the closet, perhaps opening themselves up to lighting up with others.

And that’s why I’m arguing that we’re now standing on the precipice of a monumental cultural and commercial shift in this part of the world. In fact this revolution is what I’ll document each week in this new column for The Daily Beast—how the newly legal cannabis industry is evolving, and how these businesswomen and men are changing the cultural landscape at a dumbfounding clip.

Gilbert told me her trend-tracking study will “be refreshed every six months, so we can see where people are in their thinking—but also where they’re headed in their thinking and, eventually, where they’ve been in their thinking.” This kind of documentation is vital, not only to these early-adopter businesses but also to the regulators currently implementing the latest batch of recreational and medical laws throughout the world.

And like Gilbert’s work, these columns will track legal marijuana’s successes and stumbles and document this booming and unprecedented industry’s progress as we enter a more 420-friendly era. I can’t wait to really dig in and share some of the most compelling stories I’ve come across in nearly four years of covering this industry, and I thank you in advance for following along.