The CBD boom in 15 charts

The CBD boom in 15 charts
Image: Quartz/Bárbara Abbês
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Once upon a time, the most-Googled cannabis-derived chemical compound was THC. Also known as tetrahydrocannabinol, THC was feared and revered for its ability to get users high. Today it’s CBD, or cannabidiol, that we’re dying to know more about. In December 2016, Google searches for CBD overtook those for THC, and its popularity has been climbing ever since.

Here are 15 charts with data revealing the current state of the CBD boom: who’s using it, why they’re into it, how they consume it, what it’s worth, and where it’s coming from.

In a Harris Poll survey conducted in March 2019, Quartz asked over 2,000 Americans about their use and perceptions of CBD. The results show that while the vast majority of people in the US are aware of the cannabis-derived compound, not many have tried it, and even fewer use it regularly.

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Why are people using CBD?

The answer for most is: As a cure-all for the modern condition. Those surveyed consider it more of a wellness aid than a recreational drug: only about a quarter of respondents said they used CBD socially or as a novelty. About half of those who have tried CBD say they used it to relax, and another 50% said they were looking for stress and anxiety relief. (Respondents were allowed to give multiple answers for why they used CBD.)

Is it actually proven to work for all these ailments? So glad you asked.

And who are these CBD users?

CBD users tend to be younger. Over 10% of Americans between 18 and 44 years old use CBD regularly, about double the share of regular users over 45. That might be because millennials are experiencing debilitating anxiety at twice the average rate in the US.

Men are more than twice as likely as women to use CBD regularly. Approximately 10% of men responded that they use CBD on a regular basis compared to just 4% of women.

Women are likelier to turn to CBD for health reasons


In the US, CBD is loved best in the West

Over a quarter of people living in western states have tried CBD. That’s true of fewer than 20% of people in the South, Midwest, and Northeast. That might be because while hemp-derived CBD is widely available, consumers in states where cannabis is legal and some of the best-known CBD brands are based—Colorado and California among them—are likelier to have encountered products made with CBD.

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How do we feel about it?

Americans largely approve of CBD, despite knowing little about it.

Of the large majority of Americans that have heard of CBD, over 80% support its use. About 56% say they support using CBD as a replacement for prescription pain killers. Almost half of those surveyed also support using CBD to replace prescription drugs for fighting anxiety.

So…no worries?

Not exactly. About two thirds of all those we surveyed said they are concerned about widespread use of CBD: 38% are concerned about unknown side effects, and 33% are worried about its combined effects with prescription drugs. Others worry it might act as a gateway to other drugs. (Survey-takers were allowed to respond with any number of concerns.)

US adults’ concerns about CBD

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What is CBD worth?

Analysts at Cowen and Company estimated that 2018 retail sales of hemp-derived CBD products in the US alone fell somewhere in the wide swath between $600 million and $2 billion. The Brightfield Group, a research firm focused specifically on the cannabis industry, pegged the US hemp-derived CBD market in 2018 at $590 million. Brightfield predicts that number will increase tenfold by the end of this year, to $5.7 billion and projects the US market will balloon to a whopping $22 billion by 2022.

Brightfield also estimates the two biggest markets behind the US, Europe and Canada, will be worth a combined $615 million in 2019.

Who’s cashing in?

If you read our complete guide to the CBD boom (ahem), you’ll know that Canadian mega-cannabis producers Tilray and Canopy have their eyes on the US cannabis market with hemp-derived CBD as their legal ticket/Trojan horse in, and that many of the other significant CBD players—including Curaleaf, which in March announced a deal to supply CVS drugstores with CBD products—also got their start in cannabis that contains THC.

When it comes to the hemp-derived stuff, the US market is still quite fragmented. As of 2018, no single company had managed to capture more than a 13% market share, according to the analysts at the Brightfield Group.

Still, note Brightfield’s analysts, “because of the massive growth taking place, even those companies that have lost market share have grown tremendously in terms of sales since last year.” CW Hemp, for example, reported $85 million in sales for 2018—more than double its 2017 revenue. CV Sciences wasn’t far behind with reported sales of $70 million in 2018, about twice its 2017 figure.

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And what are all these CBD products?

According to a survey conducted by the financial firm Cowen and Company in January, tinctures were the delivery mechanism that most people had tried, followed closely by topicals, capsules, and beverages.

Tinctures were also the most popular in a 2018 survey by The Brightfield Group. Again, topicals and capsules followed closely behind—but according to these two data sets, the beverage sector has lots of room to grow. Cowen’s survey showed that about 20% of CBD users had tried a CBD beverage, but Brightfield reports the category made up just 2% of the market in 2018. 

Who’s selling them?

Brightfield estimated that natural food stores accounted for about 30% of US cannabis sales in 2018, followed closely by online sales. But the retail mix is shifting faster than analysts can track it. In March of this year, both Walgreens and CVS announced plans to carry CBD in a combined 2,300 stores, making chain stores—a category that was nonexistent last year—the biggest retail channel according to 2019 estimates.

Where’s it coming from?

CBD imports are not tracked specifically—though hemp oil imports are on the rise—but a lot of US CBD is homegrown, and with good incentive: Will Brownlow, who has been farming in southeast Kentucky for close to three decades, said an acre of soybeans could only get him $500 at the end of 2018, but an acre of hemp—dense with flowers rich in CBD—could yield as much as $30,000.

Brownlow is not alone. US farmers tripled their hemp acreage between 2018 and 2017, and we’re likely to see another dramatic jump in 2019.

“The plant is a weed, and it likes to grow,” said Brownlow, of his new crop. He might as well have been talking about the CBD business.