Going to Extremes – Exploring the micro- and macro-dose edible trends
Macro- and micro-dose THC edibles are in many ways opposing trends. The products target very different customers. Their guiding philosophies have led manufacturers to incredibly divergent product forms.
And they have seen very different receptions at licensed cannabis retailers.
Macro-dose edibles have been around since the earliest days of medical marijuana. While adult-use regulations may limit their ability to fully penetrate most recreational markets, operators are finding ways to meet the small, but growing demand for the products as state markets mature.
Much like micro-dose products, the definition of a macro-dose edible can change depending on the market or consumer. Although edible products in state medical markets like Arizona, California and Colorado would regularly see 1,000-2,000-milligram THC chocolates and brownies over the past decade, edibles with more than 100 milligrams of THC have become a standard high-water mark for most recreational states.
Murray Stein, CEO of Halo Infusions, an edibles business that produces several lines of macro-dose edibles in Arizona, says there is a surprisingly large consumer base for high-THC edibles.
“We found that basically some of the most significant products in the market are, in fact, 500 milligrams or above,” Stein says. “That was a bit of a surprise to us. But there are people that still want to go for the maximum milligrams and of course, margins on those larger milligram products are quite good.”
The demand for high-THC edibles is partly from customers with higher tolerances, as well as customers looking for the most bang for their buck or simply chasing the strongest products they can find, Stein says. The amount of distillate used in macro-dose edibles overpowers many flavors and as a result the products are typically sold in chocolate-rich confections such as brownies, chocolate bars and cookies. However, in Washington, where edibles are restricted to 10 milligrams per serving and no more than 10 servings per package, regulations governing liquids have birthed a niche industry of manufacturers selling “cannabis shots” containing 100 milligrams in 1-4-ounce servings and in packages as large as 72 ounces.
“It’s kind of a loophole,” says Patrick Wlaznak, co-owner of Soulshine Cannabis, a Washington producer/processor that manufactures 100-milligram THC beverages available in packs up to 18. “They’re one of the fastest sell-through products we have on our menu,” he says.
Tacoma-based Agro Couture is another Washington producer/processor supplying the growing cannabis shots niche. General manager James Beauchamp says Agro Couture debuted with four flavors in February 2021, and now the company has 23 varieties of its 100-milligram THC shots.
“That first month we sold around 1,000 of each unit and now here we are, not even a year later, and we’re producing 50,000 drinks a month,” Beauchamp says. “We can’t keep them on shelves.”
By all accounts micro-dose THC products are a relatively new trend. While products have featured ultra-low doses of THC in the past, the recent crop of well-marketed brands arriving in different adult-use markets across North America highlights a new, growing customer base looking for a low-dose entry point into cannabis.
Defining “micro” is a bit of a moving target as many states only allow for edible packages to contain 5-10 milligrams of THC per serving. But most in the industry consider 2.5 milligrams or less in a single serving a micro-dose product.
The guiding philosophy behind the growth of micro-dose edibles products is to ease the consumer into finding the perfect high. Although there are plenty of low-dose tinctures, capsules, pills and even teas that have been available in the medical market for years, the trend for adult-use has been beverages that function much like alcoholic drinks and provide a more traditional social experience.
“We started by making something that allowed cannabis a seat at the table, like a beer or glass of wine, or a cocktail,” says Kevin Smith, co-owner of Sungaze, a brand of 2.5 milligram-infused beverages produced in Washington. “It’s a great alcohol alternative that gives you a light buzz and doesn’t cause a hangover.”
Lisa Hurwitz, president of Happi, an infused-beverage producer based in Michigan, markets her 2.5-milligram THC seltzers as a more sociable cannabis product and says people use them differently than traditional edibles.
“Edibles at a party or in a social setting, I think is a weird use-case, but people do it,” Hurwitz says. “But you may want a smaller dose because you don’t know how it’s gonna affect you or because you need to be social and you want to make sure you’re still able to pull the conversation.”
But while micro-dose products have been hitting adult-use markets such as California, Washington, Oregon, Michigan and others, the end-results at dispensaries have been somewhat lackluster.
“We’ve had a great response from the people who try it,” says Smith. “But we have to let the cannabis curious know about our product.”
Smith says part of the problem is that buyers at dispensaries are often heavy users and have little interest in giving shelf space to low-THC products.
“Our target market is really the cannabis user that doesn’t exist in dispensaries,” he says.
Hurwitz says her company hit a similar roadblock: the main target audience isn’t necessarily the people going into adult-use retail stores. She says Happi is now offering 10 milligram options across Michigan, because the dispensary regulars are rarely looking for a low-dose beverage. And while that was a bitter pill to swallow, Hurwitz found that Happi could tap into its intended audience via hemp-derived delta-9 THC in the neighboring market of Minnesota.
“In Minnesota, low-dose beverages are exploding because they’re not being sold in dispensaries,” Hurwitz says. “They’re sold in more traditional retail formats where consumers are used to buying beverages.”
Smith says the ability to sell low-dose THC beverages outside of state-licensed dispensaries would “open the door” for Sungaze in a similar way that it has for Happi in Minnesota.
“We believe the future of cannabis could be drinks,” Smith says. “We’re barely scratching the surface on this.”