COVID and The Home-Growing Cannabis Market
While there’s been a fairly well established community of cannabis growers for some years now, COVID threw a spanner in the works for a lot of people in a lot of different ways. Plenty of people were at home a lot more, giving them more freedom during the day and more spare time without their daily commute to dabble in hobbies.
A few industries struggled while others thrived - especially the likes of home improvement and gardening, fitness and of course it seems like just about everyone got a new pet during lockdown too. With COVID being a virus that affects the respiratory system, there was also a health trend towards a lot of people trying to quit - or at least cut back - on their smoking habits. With these factors in mind, we wanted to take a look at home growers habits during the early stages of COVID and how that changed over the following years.
Was there an increase in at home cannabis growing?
The short answer is yes, the long answer is a little more complicated if you look at the trend over time. When we look at when COVID actually began, March 2020 was when most of the world went into lockdown. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this meant we were stuck indoors just as the spring was starting which is typically an ideal time for home growing.
How sales changed during COVID
During that time, online sales for cannabis seeds boomed. There was almost a 100% increase in seed buyers, 74% of which were new customers. That’s a whole lot of new people dabbling in the garden to see how green their fingers could really be.
As we well know, COVID didn’t go away after a few weeks inside and we were dealing with the lockdowns and precautionary measures well into 2021. Looking at the stats from year two of COVID, of the 74% of new customers from 2020, only 10% purchased more seeds the following growing season in 2021.
What made people start growing in the first place?
There was a lot of uncertainty during that time when lockdown was still a new concept and a lot of businesses had to close their doors. Unless they were deemed an essential service, chances are you weren’t going to be browsing their shelves any time soon. Initially, that also meant that dispensaries were shut down too.
Due to the lack of clarity that cannabis users had during that initial lockdown period, a lot of people decided that - rather than going without - why not give a home grow a go. With that, people were ordering seeds in abundance. And why not? When you’re at home, the weather is getting warmer and it’s the perfect time to get a crop ready, it was the ideal opportunity. Growing your own can be a rewarding experience, give good yields when done correctly and gardening isn’t a popular pastime for no reason.
With 18 states allowing cannabis plants for recreational use, there’s been a general uptick in personal use. Many people find it relaxing and when you consider how stressful 2020 was for a whole lot of reasons, home growing to get some bud was probably a pretty good idea for a lot of people. While some were baking banana bread, others decided to give more niche hobbies a go. Buying seeds is affordable, gardening is relaxing and of course if you’re lucky, you get some frosty flowers for all your efforts.
Another reason people may have been growing was the fact that 2020 was a pretty stressful year. Obviously a lot of people will roll one up at the end of the day to relieve a bit of stress and when you know it’s legal and you’ve got time on your hands, why wouldn’t you?
How did dispensaries play into these trends?
Dispensaries are legal in 19 states in America, meaning that for those who are used to being able to pop down to their local, COVID would have taken a little bit of adjustment. In the same way that not being able to grab your groceries from the usual spot would throw you a bit, it turns out cannabis operates in a similar way. Following the initial peak in seed sales for home growing, this dropped a little after dispensaries reopened. There was likely somewhat of a cannabis glut following an increase in demand initially then people were growing at home for some time but then regained access to cannabis retail as well.
In addition, after that initial teething period with COVID we got used to life under lockdown and so did businesses. Once dispensaries were classified as an essential service, recreational users were able to go visit their local store again and get what they needed, regardless of the daily infection tally. In fact, with the increase in legality throughout the Canada, the amount spent from late 2018 to early 2020 nearly tripled. Consumers spent $55.40 million in November 2018, increasing that to $150.75 million in February 2020.
In the US, a study was conducted across Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington - all states where dispensaries are legal - to find out if they’d also followed a similar trend. Looking at pre-tax sales and analysing the April to October periods for 2018, 2019 and 2020 found all states had higher sales during the pandemic.
This also correlates with the overall trend that we noticed between seed sales seeing a huge spike in 2020 when we were all experiencing mass shutdowns in comparison to 2021 when it was no longer our first rodeo or lockdown and dispensaries were allowed to stay open.
Covid 2.0 and the drop in home growing
A 100% increase in sales is a pretty significant statistic and with 74% of that number being brand new customers, it was an interesting time in the seed industry. However with only 10% of those new customers returning the following year for the 2021 growing season, it’s a logical conclusion to come to that not everyone wants to stay in the home growing game.
There’s likely a few reasons for this. One of the obvious ones being that life was a little more back to normal in 2021. We weren’t quite there yet, but shops were open, people were by and large vaccinated (or had already had COVID and weren’t feeling as cautious as before). This meant grabbing some bud from a dispensary was a simple and easy option.
Another factor is that growing is also often one of those hit or miss things when you start out. While experienced growers can attest to the fact that you can perfect your craft with time and practice, you aren’t always guaranteed a bumper crop when you’re just starting out. Some strains are easier to grow than others, where you live and how you grow can play a big part into how much yield you’ll get from your crop too.
For those who didn’t have a roaring success during their home-grows in 2020, it’s quite possible the simpler option was to simply order online (which was much easier to do after COVID). Despite it being a more expensive way to get cannabis than growing it yourself.
Many businesses found that setting up shop online and shipping direct, rather than having people come in store, was the way to go. Dispensaries were of course a part of that. In fact, COVID contributed $219 billion to the US ecommerce sales in 2020-2021. This meant that getting your bud delivered right to your letterbox was easier than ever.
Long Covid and Cannabis
As time moves on from the initial waves of Covid-19, the world is seeing an increasing number of people suffering from what has been dubbed "Long Covid". According to the CDC nearly 1 in 5 Americans that got Covid are still experiencing symptoms which would be classed as Long Covid. To put that in to perspective, that is 7.5% of the total population or 25 million Americans. Figures are similar for other developed nations with the UK showing nearly 4% of the population or 2.1million suffering.
What is Long Covid?
According to the US department of Health and Human Services, long covid is defined as:
“Long COVID is broadly defined as signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue or develop after initial COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 infection."
In terms of symptoms, they are varied, but the most reported ones include:
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Muscle Aches
- Joint Pain
The existence of Long Covid is still a new phenomena and so there is little in the way of direct research on the benefit cannabis could have. However when looked at individually there are clear parallels in terms of symptoms with other disorders that marijuana use has been of proven benefit. For example Rheumatoid Arthritis, a painful condition that particularly affects the joints, is one of the most common complaints listed as being suitable for a medical marijuana licence across North America. This suggests that cannabinoids could be of real help to Long Covid joint pain sufferers.
This also applies to PTSD, where depression and anxiety are major symptoms. PTSD is widely treated with medical cannabis, in particular strains that are more sativa dominant in their genetics. Furthermore, sativa dominant strains are frequently cited by users as being more uplifting and energising. This means they could be suitable for assisting in overcoming lethargy and fatigue.
As the prevalence of Long Covid continues and more people are diagnosed, it may be that additional research is done on how cannabis can be of benefit in the treatment of symptoms. This could bring significant relief to teh millions worldwide suffering from this ailment.
Where is the future of at home cannabis growing from here?
We can see that cannabis is here to stay, but will people still be growing from home? In 2020, Americans consumed nearly one billion kilograms of bud. The current projections anticipate that that number is set to triple by 2025. This is especially with an increasing number of states making recreational use legal.
While more people are back in the office, there’s still been a steady increase in seed sales, even from brand new customers since the pandemic began back in 2020. More people are working flexibly, meaning there’s still enough hours in the day for a bit of time in the garden (or indoor hot house). For those who found success with their first harvests it’s more likely than not that they’ll stick with it - even if they’re still dropping into a dispensary from time to time. It’s certainly a more cost effective way to get your cannabis, especially after the initial costs of equipment have already been met.
1 - Total online seed sales 2019-2021 from Marijuana-seeds.nl
2 - MacKillop J, Cooper A, Costello J. National Retail Sales of Alcohol and Cannabis During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Canada. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(11):e2133076. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.33076
3 - Gillian L.Schauera, Julia A.Dilley, Douglas R.Roehler, Thomas J.Sheehy, Jessica R.Filley, Sara Cooley Broschart, Kristin M.Holland, Grant T.Baldwin, Amy K.Holmes-Chavez, Brooke E.Hootsd. Cannabis sales increases during COVID-19: Findings from Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0955395921002899
4 - CDC report on the "Household Pulse Survey" carried out between April 2020 and 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/covid19/pulse/long-covid.htm