A healthy investment? The rising popularity of cannabis vape pens.
By Clint Sharples, CEO, Heritage Cannabis
Since the introduction of “Cannabis 2.0” to Canada’s legal cannabis market, vape pens have quickly become one of the most popular ways to consume cannabis. Cannabis 1.0 — chiefly unprocessed flower and pre-rolled joints — still make up roughly 71 percent of the market, but a significant portion of the remaining sales belong to vape pens.
And that shouldn’t really surprise anyone. Vape pens are convenient and efficient, and they continue to be more affordable as the Cannabis 2.0 market settles in. Vape pens are also widely considered to be a healthier alternative to traditional smoking, a claim supported by medical science (with a few major caveats). For investors, all of these factors probably make vape pens a pretty enticing option. But are they the real deal?
Understanding vape pens
Vape pens work by heating an extracted cannabis substance, usually an oil or distillate, in order to create an aerosol vapor that is inhaled by the user. There’s no smoke, meaning there’s no tar or other particulates like there are with smoking. However, medical professionals are quick to caution you that this doesn’t make vaping “safe,” merely safer than smoking. As it is a relatively new technology, there simply isn’t enough known about the long-term effects of vaping.
There’s also a wide variety of vaping products. This makes it difficult to pronounce any sort of broad health claims about vaping. The extract vaporized by the device is composed of an active ingredient, generally the cannabinoids THC, CBD, or a combination of the two, along with flavoring agents and various cutting agents. Flavoring agents can include terpenes, which are aromatic compounds found in cannabis and other plants. Not all vape cartridges include cannabis terpenes, and research is still being conducted into just what kind of medicinal or beneficial qualities these terpenes may have.
From a cannabis perspective, the cannabinoids and terpenes are what’s important. But from a consumer perspective, there’s plenty of other options to look for. Some consumers prefer artificial flavors, of which there are plenty. Additionally, it’s important to understand what cutting agents or thinners are being used, as some may lead to serious health implications. Investors may look to companies that can verify their products are full spectrum and contain no potentially harmful additives or back added terpenes so they can have confidence that the company they invest in offers safe products.
Investors should also pay attention to the actual vaping cartridge being used. There are plenty of low-quality cartridges on the market that are made of plastic. These can affect the quality of the product by leaching terpenes from and bleeding chemicals into the vape liquid. Glass cartridges don’t have these problems, and since many consumers choose vaping as a “safer than smoking” alternative it stands to reason that they’ll want to opt for these “safer still” options.
Any extract-based cannabis product must also undergo rigorous testing throughout its manufacturing lifecycle in order to ensure quality. The best producers will test not just to meet safety standards, but to have a comprehensive understanding of the ingredients used in their product. For investors looking to back a quality producer, careful study of these test results is an important step in the vetting process.
How high will sales rise?
Vape pen sales currently hover around 13-16 percent of total cannabis sales in Canada, but there’s every reason to believe that number will increase significantly. In the United States, vape pens made up similar sales percentages in Colorado, Washington, and Nevada in January of 2019. By June, vape pens captured closer to 20 percent of sales in all three states. Meanwhile, in California, vape pens’ share of the marketplace grew from 29 percent to 31 percent over the same time.
These numbers are significant because they represent a trend that was suddenly interrupted. The vape pen market took a downturn during the late summer of 2019 due to a sudden outbreak of serious lung injuries and illnesses related to vaping. By the time the cause had been traced to the use of toxic cutting agents in low quality (and generally illegal) vape cartridges and the markets were starting to rebound, COVID-19 hit.
All of this indicates that, with the possible exception of California’s market, vape pens had yet to really hit their full potential. Just as they were on their way up, the dual disasters of 2019’s contaminated cartridges and 2020’s pandemic outbreak stymied sales and suppressed a promising market that will very likely rebound — and perhaps do so higher than ever.
In the United States, New Jersey, Arizona, Mississippi, and Montana all legalized cannabis usage in some form — whether medicinal or recreational — while South Dakota became the first state to legalize both medical and recreational use in the same election. This brings the total number of states with legal cannabis to 34, a number which is likely to grow. With a new presidential administration taking office, it’s even possible that the federal prohibition on cannabis may soon be coming to an end. This would be excellent news for any cannabis investor.
Clint Sharples is the CEO of Heritage Cannabis, where he leads the corporate development and implementation of the strategic direction of the brand in Canada and internationally. A seasoned business development expert in multiple industries, he is also the CEO of Modu-Loc Fence Rentals, a Canada's Best Managed Company, and the Chairman of Strategic Aviation and Sky Café. Based in Toronto, Clint has over 20 years of senior leadership experience, manages $80 million in annual revenues and overseeing 1,200 employees across his businesses.
Source: Heritage Cannabis Holdings Corp.,