Big Data is Big Business for Cannabis

by | Feb 4, 2019

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

Cannabis users aren't hiding behind closed doors anymore, and neither is their data. Tech companies and data companies are taking note. For decades nobody talked about who was using cannabis or why they were using it – unless of course, it was a study about drug addiction. As legalization spreads, the industry is rushing to fill the void of consumer information left by the black market.

Collecting cannabis consumer data is big business. Everyone wants to know customer profiles.

The Demand for Data

Originally, data in cannabis meant companies like Leafy, who pushed to compile a consumer-submitted strain database. Now, the lens has flipped, and brands are turning the attention back on the consumer. Considering only a few short years ago customers were dead set on keeping their habits under wraps, it's strange to see how much information consumers are willingly giving away to these big data aggregation companies.

However, the shift makes sense. Consumer data is giving brands insight into who is using their products, and for what applications. Top companies are already working this information into better marketing, product design, and development.  Consumers will benefit as well, by finding better medicine and new devices to make their experience more effective. Crowdsourced data collection is filling the space left by the lack of robust clinical research.

To design a product for a particular medical condition, it's a costly and time-consuming process. In many cases, a scientific study is simply cost prohibitive. To avoid the time, cost and legal restraints of the traditional pharmaceutical approach companies are turning to the data.  A grower, producer or designer can quickly glean insight about what strains (or cannabinoids) are useful for which medical condition. There are a million and one ways to work the data for a competitive edge, but increasingly cannabis companies are forming a more complete understanding of cannabis as medicine, than the current body of research.

There are three primary ways cannabis companies are sourcing consumer data:

Consumer Reported/Crowd Sourced

Cannabis consumers love to share information – which is why Leafly and similar sites have seen such great successes. Unlike in other industries, cannabis consumers want to talk about how different products made them feel, and what medical benefits they experienced. Between friends, between fellow smokers, and now through mobile apps like Potbotics. Consumers benefit because they receive advice on the strain, medicinal benefit, and experience. Companies benefit because consumers are willingly supplying detailed information on what they want, and why they want it.

Smart Device

While smart vaporizers are just now breaking into the consumer market,  they often include a secondary data collection component  – a linked mobile control. Some products require their customers to connect their mobile phone to their portable vaporizer, which then controls temperature, time, and dose. Other less-integrated designs don’t require a connection, but the customer can still record the details of their session into the branded application. All this data, including gender, age, weight, medical condition, strain preference, and efficacy of dose, are all fed back into a community database.

Point of Sale Collection

Cova, Trees, Greenline and more are all examples of Point-of-Sale (POS) systems which collect and analyze information direct from dispensary sales. Combining membership information with sales stats paints a picture of cannabis demographics and product use. While less detailed than the other methods of data collection, it theoretically provides enough data to analyze top sellers and target demographic. A forward-thinking dispensary could use this data to manage inventory, source new products, and cater their brand to a very specific customer base.

Quick Profile On the New Wave of Cannabis Data Companies

The cannabis data industry is projected to become a $22 billion a year industry. There are of course the prominent data collectors who have been operating in Cannabis since day one. They include BDS Analytics, New Frontier and New Leaf. These companies have been pulling data from POS systems, and state sales for years. Each of them boasts massive subscriber lists eager for their pay-for industry reports on cannabis trends.

But who are the data collection newcomers, who are taking a slightly different approach to the cannabis market than the big names?


Originally just a data aggregation company, Potbiotics is now a device company with their recent announcement of their plan to launch the Ryah portable vaporizer. Potbiotics, a mobile application, combines peer-reviewed research on medical marijuana with your personal details and medical condition, to suggest strains from local dispensaries. Ryah, takes this consumer data one step further, pulling detailed information straight from the device. Creating an information highway between consumer, experience, and data aggregation.


Releaf is an application exclusively focused on the medical marijuana market. The app allows patients to track their sessions live, to accurately capture the effects as they happen. The app compiles data to provide the consumer with intelligent reports on strain and method of consumption, which allow the patient to make informed decisions for future treatment. So far they are focused on compiling the live consumer information into soon to be published academic studies, exploring the exciting insights they have already pulled from their users.


Another crowdsourced approach to data collection, Canvas is a Canadian tech firm using an educational web-based platform. Their website,, was designed with three core components (Cannvas academy, Cannvas strain matcher, and Cannvas articles). Which then accumulates data on consumer tastes, buying habits, and desires. The data eventually feeds into another arm of the company – Cannvas Data. This branch of the company is striving to become the “census data of the Cannabis industry.”

As is the case in most customer-facing industries, consumer data is increasingly important to brand success. Few cannabis companies are taking advantage of the possibilities this data presents – but the possibilities are endless. From homing in on niche markets to developing useful and popular products to projecting future trends, every aspect f the industry can benefit from working the data.  Going forward data analytics is going to play a massive role in who succeeds and who is left behind.