The Use of Academic Research in Medical Cannabis Marketing: A Qualitative and Quantitative Review of Company Websites


Objective: This study identified, described, and evaluated how six medical cannabis companies (CTPharma, Canopy Growth, Charlotteâs Web, Columbia Care, Curaleaf, and Tilray), which have a combined market capitalization of more than $10 billion, use academic research in their marketing strategies. Method: We focused on partnerships between medical cannabis companies and academic institutions and research-related health claims. In summer 2020, we systematically collected data on these practices from these companies’ public-facing websites using a custom web-scraper. We present a summary of each companyâs academic partnerships and their use of health claims in online material. We used regular expressions to categorize claims by medical condition. Results: We found evidence that five of the six companies reviewed (all but Curaleaf) engaged in and publicized partnerships with academic institutions to market cannabis or cannabis-derived products. Four companies appeared to focus their partnerships on observational rather than clinical research. Only one partnership reviewed involved a plan for large-scale randomized controlled trials (RCTs), and none had produced a publication with causal evidence from a large-scale RCT. We found 908 research-related health claims either on or directly linked from company websites. These claims involved common and severe conditions such as cancer (N = 154), gastrointestinal disorders (N = 133), inflammation (N = 163), mental health disorders (N = 412), and pain (N = 326) (a single claim could be categorized by regular expressions to zero, one, or multiple medical conditions so these did not sum to 908). Conclusions: Medical cannabis companies regularly use associations with academia and academic research to imply that their products are safe and effective before these claims are causally confirmed. This practice may mislead patients, policymakers, and the public into believing unconfirmed claims about the safety and efficacy of cannabis and cannabis-derived products.
Theodore L. Caputi
Theodore L. Caputi
Economics & Health Researcher

My research interests include public health, health innovation, and health care.