As a wave of marijuana legalization makes its way across the U.S., it’s becoming easier to imagine a future where pot integrates itself into other markets. One of the biggest contenders for a cannabis crossover is the business of sexual health, with consumers starting to take note of medicated adult products.
For many people, an interest in marijuana as an aphrodisiac means going to the dispensary, buying some flower, grinding it up and smoking it. But increasingly people are looking for an alternative form of cannabis consumption that still offers the benefits of the plant’s purported ability to increase sexual satisfaction. And pot product manufacturers have certainly listened up — both to demand and to the emerging science surrounding hooking up and getting high.
For adult retailers, joining this movement is a no-brainer. The marrying of cannabis culture and adult retail shops opens the door to endless new customer acquisition opportunities for both parties.
Besides getting people high, THC “increases blood flow and can make women feel aroused more easily,” said Devan Anthony, co-founder of Portland-based cannabis lubricant producer Luminous Botanicals. “It can make [an] orgasm feel stronger for both men and women.”
Cannabidiol (CBD), a compound in cannabis, lowers inflammation and can help “someone who experiences pain during or after penetrative intercourse” and even “delay climax, which can be helpful for men who suffer from premature ejaculation.” CBD is what is used to temper the anxiety that many people can feel from ingesting too much THC and attaches to benzodiazepine receptors, meaning it works like Xanax or Klonopin.
CBD has gained steam as an anxiolytic, anti-epileptic and anti-inflammatory, with some proponents even insisting it can fight cancer. (The FDA, which chastised a number of CBD-only companies for their anti-cancer claims in 2017, has a different opinion.)
Sex educator, sex and relationship coach and “cannasexual” Ashley Manta says that clients often come to her dealing with “things like stress, discomfort, self-consciousness and struggles with communication.” When used “mindfully and with intention,” she says, cannabis “can mitigate these factors.”
Science proves that, as with anything, there can also be drawbacks to using cannabis in the context of sex. The same way that your mouth and eyes would get dry from smoking certain kinds of marijuana, so too could it dry out other mucous membranes, including the downstairs ones. This isn’t to mention that too much THC in a product can actually cause anxiety and panic instead of ameliorating it.
Since some strains cause more of these side effects than others, a little ingredient oversight and labeling transparency is starting to seem anything but optional.
“There are some cannabis brands that are excellent at producing consistent, quality products that offer the same effects each time, but that’s more of the exception than the rule in the current market,” said Manta.
A Precarious Marketplace
In general, the quasi-legal nature of the industry means that even companies interested in a consistent product might have issues with their supply chain. Some manufacturers, including Quiver Sensual Cannabis Oil-maker HerbaBuena, have gone as far as to get their own cultivation permits in an effort to ensure increased quality control and consistency.
HerbaBuena’s approach is far from typical. Despite the lack of transparency — or perhaps enabled by it — new pot products have been popping up within the marketplace with surprising rapidity. There are two different types of products available: ones that are flower-derived and ones that are made from hemp. Hemp, smokable marijuana’s industrial counterpart, contains only trace amounts of psychoactive THC and is instead used in this context as a source of CBD.
These days hemp-derived CBD topical creams can be found everywhere from sex shops to grocery stores across most of the 50 U.S. states. Despite technically being a component of a Schedule I drug, CBD remains almost entirely unrestricted. A number of states, like Iowa and Kentucky, have even outright legalized the substance in response to its demonstrated medicinal properties. But THC, of course, has not had a similar fate, and so products that contain it are restricted to being sold at dispensaries even when they’re designed specifically for sexual health.
“We can not sell directly to consumers or ship our products out of state,” said Anthony of his lubricants and cannabis tonics. “We don’t see this changing in the near future, as it would require a major shift in federal cannabis policy. Because of this limitation, our distribution and market penetration is much less than it would be if it were legal for any sex shop to stock our products.” The company relies, he says, on educational seminars in sex shops to drive customers to dispensaries where the products are sold.
Even in California’s legal market, Manta explained, “business owners need a specific retail license to sell THC-infused products. I don’t anticipate a lot of sex shops diving into that pool. [Instead] I suspect what we’ll see from adult retailers vis-à-vis cannabis is stocking smoke shop items like pipes, vaporizers, rolling papers, etc. as well as CBD-only products, at least for the next few years while the regulations are worked out.”
Alicia Rose, founder of HerbaBuena, sees a restricted future regardless of legalization. She said, “It seems most plausible that even as restrictions are loosened, there will continue to be laws that preclude cannabis from being sold or distributed with guns, alcohol, tobacco and, likely, sex.”
Once again, sexual health is pigeonholed into a world of danger when really it’s a matter of wellbeing. Some people say the same of cannabis: that it’s seen most of all as a vice rather than being noted for its medical qualities. But will adult stores fight back in the name of public health or will they fold the way that many marijuana passion products producers expect them to?
The Adult Retail Industry Responds
While jumping into the cannabis industry isn’t likely for many adult retailers, there certainly is potential to profit off of the lifestyle with smoking accessories and pot-themed toys and novelties.
Excitement Adult Superstores in central Pennsylvania shifted to carrying smoke products in 2013 and 2014. Citing the decline of DVD sales, Excitement’s Katy Halter told XBIZ that the store decided to use the space formerly occupied by DVDs to try new products that would mix well with its existing offerings.
“Smoke products have similar customer age limitations — you must be 18 or older to purchase, and we already had the retail infrastructure built in so there was nothing to lose by converting the square footage to smoke,” Halter said.
Halter notes that selling smoke products proved especially successful at its locations in small cities compared to bigger cities that have more free-standing headshops.
“We’ve got plans in the works to open a smoke-only store in the areas where it has been most successful,” she said. “Also, we started a smoke-only rewards program to encourage customers to spread word of mouth about our smoke selection and to encourage brand loyalty. This has been an effective marketing tool when we’re so limited as to how we advertise products related to tobacco use and laws. We’re now expanding the rewards to the rest of our store products, encompassing toys, lingerie and DVDs, too.”
Among Excitement’s smoking product offerings are a variety of smoking devices from affordable handpipes to intricately designed water pipes and oil rigs, plus a wide variety of vaporizers, grinders and smoke accessories. Halter says the store’s bread and butter is glass of all types and accessories for the oil/concentrate community.
“We have CBD sales are growing and we’ve also seen a lot of growth in the electronic vaporizer community,” she said. “We’ll be starting a #techtuesday series on our @iloveexcitementsmoke instagram to feature the various electronic smoking devices we carry. The technology is changing and evolving quickly in vaporizers and we do our best to keep up with stocking the latest products.”
Despite the sales of CBD products tripling over the last year, Halter says Excitement has stringent guidelines for choosing which products it stocks.
“We carry a full range of CBD products, from consumables for relaxation and pain relief to CBD skincare,” Halter said. “Prior to bringing in a new brand of CBD products, we do a minimum of two months of research on the brands. We have strict internal expectations regarding quality and sourcing of the CBD products we carry. We look for brands that are compliant with current legislation (which for now, means they source their raw isolate CBD from outside of the U.S.), and prefer companies that have third-party testing to back up their claims of ingredients and chemical makeup. Our reputation is on the line with customers, so we take this very seriously and are proud of the quality and reliability of our products.
“We are looking into carrying more aphrodisiacs and sex enhancers, but have been skeptical of certain brands that claim to have CBD in them, but upon further inquiry with the manufacturers we learn that there is no therapeutic level of CBD ingredients in their products. We are currently testing the market for CBD Daily products to see how much demand there is for lotions and salves. There are other brands of CBD sexual enhancers we won’t carry even though they are appealing, because they don’t meet our standards for sourcing.”
A new brand of CBD products has arrived courtesy of acclaimed adult film director Michael Ninn and boutique bath and body products manufacturer It’s the Bomb.
“I think Michael’s approach to the whole CBD evolution of products is that, as a director in the adult industry, he understands the process of the relationship between people engaging in the intimate act of sex,” said Susan, the founder of It’s the Bomb. “We, at ITB (It’s the Bomb), strive to develop products that enhance the sexual experience. The CBD Collective line is a sensual trio that brings a couple together in a way never thought before without certain types of medications.”
The CBD Collection by Michael Ninn line aims to make sex feel better mentally and physically. The collection includes a CBD Peppermint Deep Throat Spray, CBD Lube Drop and CBD Roll-Hard. The CBD Peppermint Deep Throat Spray relaxes and soothes the throat while calming anxiety. Similarly, the CBD Lube Drop not only aids in providing lubrication but also calms tension in erogenous zones. The CBD Roll-Hard blends natural goldenrod into the formula to enhance an erection.
“Through experimentation and curiosity, we think we have found a base to enhance a sensual encounter,” Susan said. “We will leave it up to the user to give feedback, but in our own trials, we have been able to enhance intimate acts and make them easier to ‘receive.’”
How the CBD Collective line is available to purchase on ItsTheBomb.com versus only being available in dispensaries is due to its ingredients.
Susan explains, “Under the 2014 Farm Bill, by using hemp and avoiding cannabis, our CBD Collective products are 100 percent legal throughout the U.S. Although hemp and cannabis have very similar properties, our CBD Collective line contains higher concentrations by producing the CBD through the commercially approved hemp plant, removing all traces of THC. Although, if there comes a time when THC becomes legal in more regions, we are prepared to enter that marketplace as well.”
According to Sarah Tomchesson, head of business operations for The Pleasure Chest, there is a lot of potential cross-over between the cannabis and sex toy industries, in the form of event collaboration and educational opportunities, as well as cross promotion and customer acquisition.
“The ways in which the cannabis industry exists at the crossroads of pleasure and wellness echoes pleasure products,” she said. “At the Pleasure Chest, we have always carried a selection of smoke shop products and trained on them as fully integrated in our mission to promote sexual wellness.
“Working with local dispensaries, CBD product suppliers and cannabis-focused events or publications is a great way to amplify your wellness messaging and reach a broader audience,” she said. “In addition, building awareness within your own organization around the pleasure benefits of cannabis is essential to better relate to the growing customer base that is interested in integrating cannabis more regularly into their lifestyle.”
Halter echoes the sentiment, noting that the inherently “naughty” appeal of sex and smoking or consuming CBD goes hand in hand, and by drawing them in stores, retail staff has the opportunity to impart valuable information about sexual wellness and pleasure.
“Once customers step in our shops, speak with our well-trained staff who empower them to seek and own their pleasures, to be not only sex-positive, but self-positive, they unlock a world of freedom of personal sexual and self-expression,” she said. “Whether we’re providing pleasure and relaxation through sex products or CBD/tobacco products, it’s all about enhancing their quality of life and enjoyment. We like to see people leave happy. One way or another, we’ll put a smile on your face.”
Some pleasure products manufacturers have embraced the cannabis community with accessories and novelties. Kheper Games offers a selection of marijuana-themed board games with names such as Lord of Cannabis, THC The Game, Potheads Against Sanity and more.
“Our focus is to entertain adults,” Kheper Games CEO Brian Pellham said. “We noticed weed novelties and a couple games with some of our customers already, and decided it would be a good line for us to do as well.”
Similar to the popularity of drinking games, Pellham says marijuana enthusiasts also enjoy similar amusements.
“Smoking accessories and themed products are more of a gift or impulse buy,” Pellham said. “It’s a great way to increase a sale for a customer who either enjoys cannabis or knows someone who does. It’s easy to buy a pot-themed item as a Christmas gift for example for someone who consumes this type of product on a regular basis.”
Dean Elliott, the owner and CEO of XBIZ Award-winning lube manufacturer Sliquid, ventured into the cannabis industry in 2015 with the launch of Mad Toto — a collection of smoking paraphernalia storage cases.
“Where we see the two industries intersecting is in the capacity of cross merchandising,” Elliott said. “For instance, our Mad Toto Tube Cases function as the perfect item to store a glass piece; however, its dual functionality is that it makes for a discreet place to carry a pleasure product, such as a bullet. There is a synergy between the two industries, which are not mutually exclusive to one type of customer, that offers the ability for these two types of products to live and be successful in one retail space.”
At the end of the day, adult retailers that embrace the synergy of cannabis and pleasure products will most likely see an increase in customers and potentially sales.
“The mainstream acceptance of cannabis culture is a growing, albeit slow growing, movement,” Elliott said. “The key word here is mainstream. For adult retailers, joining this movement is a no-brainer. The marrying of cannabis culture and adult retail shops opens the door to endless new customer acquisition opportunities for both parties.”