Women-Led Initiatives Seizing Opportunities in European CBD Space

CBD by gender

By Oliver Bennett, Special Contributor, New Frontier Data

Last year, a conference in London showcased female leadership among the medical cannabis and CBD sectors. Just as with the U.S. and Canada, Europe has seen a significant rise in female-oriented interest in cannabis and CBD, and women are gaining prominence in the sector, whether involving medical cannabis or focusing on lifestyle-branded CBD products. 

In a formerly male-centric sector, recent developments represent something of a sea change. In the European medical cannabis market, leading reform advocates for access in the U.K. have included two mothers, Charlotte Caldwell and Hannah Deacon, respectively championing the public causes of their children, Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley. Women are widely asserting themselves as activists, educators, scientists, and entrepreneurs in the space – notwithstanding the U.K.’s York University Department of Health Sciences reporting that a general review of the clinical research done on cannabis was found weighted towards the experiences of men.

Yet, as the cannabis/CBD industry is often seen as novel, ethical, and progressive, it is also securing interest from women creating business start-ups – with particular interest dedicated to the CBD health and wellness sectors, where women tend to be earlier adopters of trends than men, and thus dominate the consumer space. As the industry gains momentum, those start-ups are attracting women, and a global Women in Cannabis study is looking at female participation.

That is not to suggest that it is a gender-dominated segment, despite some areas of differentiation. Male consumers still appear to take the lead as new users of CBD.

As detailed in New Frontier Data’s EU CBD Consumer Report, a 2019-2020 European CBD survey shows that among European consumers, men were likelier than women (by 19% versus 13%, respectively) to report having used CBD, whereas women were almost 2x as likely to have tried CBD but once or twice.

Still, respondents who reported using CBD products at least once a day were evenly distributed between male and female consumers (despite males’ spending more), indicating gender parity in day-by-day consumption. And female respondents were significantly more likely than were men to consume oils and tinctures, and to use CBD for managing chronic or intermittent health conditions. Men were seen to prefer higher-THC medical cannabis, while women were more likely to use CBD medication.

Amid public conversation about female empowerment, women discussed breaking “the grass ceiling” with Jasmin Thomas of Ohana CBD, who came to the space after self-medicating with cannabis to address her multiple sclerosis. She also runs the entOURage Network, a women’s empowerment organisation and platform “dedicated to empowering female leaders and demystifying CBD” in Europe’s cannabis market. New Frontier Data projects the total European CBD market to be worth €11.2 billion (USD$13.37 billion) by 2023.

In the context of Europe, the U.K. is quite a buoyant market. Some 78% of women in the U.K. and Ireland have heard of CBD, in contrast to the EU average of 56%, suggesting that London is home to some of the “most fascinating trends” involving CBD. Such include some niche ideas: Entrepreneur Valentina Milanova founded female health brand Daye while making pain‑relieving, plastic‑free tampons containing CBD (and subsequently raising a reported €4.6 million (USD$5.5 million) to do so. In Germany, meanwhile, Berlin-based Sanity Group reportedly raised €19.9 million (USD$23.7 million) for its wellness brand VAAY and pharmaceutical brand Vayamed, and made waves by running Germany’s first televised CBD ad as Scandinavia-founded CBD brand Nordic Oil began marketing itself throughout Europe.

There is movement being had in the luxury space too, where the fashionable aspect of CBD as an upmarket purchase has been reinforced. For example, London-based The Chillery has been billed as Europe’s first high-end CBD retail platform (touted   the aspirational Net-A-Porter of CBD) as run by Marisa Schwab and Floriane von der Forst following earlier careers in the health and beauty segments. Edinburgh start-up HerCBD’s very name makes the female connection explicit, and markets products for the relief of premenstrual tension (PMT). Endometriosis is another ailment tagged for CBD. Conversely, it is testament to the popularity of CBD that there is a warning from the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency for those pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid it.

While the female sector is growing quickly, not all its advocates are from the younger demographic. Michka Seeliger-Chatelain in France is a longtime cannabis activist who has been rewarded by a strain from Sensi Seeds bearing her name. In Holland, female-led The Boerejongens (i.e., ”farm boys”) changed perceptions of the bohemian-style coffeeshop by using high-end décor of marble counters and wooden cabinetry create an atmosphere of luxury and refinement.

So significant is female involvement that the Financial Times last year profiled women on the front lines of cannabis culture, pointing out trends for collaborations and acquisitions between the European and more established North American markets. Last year, the U.S.-based World High Life acquired U.K. CBD brand Love Hemp for £9 million (USD$10.7 million). Endoca was originally based in San Diego, Calif., but recently opened a subsidiary in the Netherlands, where its CBD online shop offers products from concentrates to oils and edibles.

A key female market proving itself in the wider health and wellness spheres. One report identifies drivers for female adoption of CBD as ranging among premenstrual tension and depression, to anxiety, menopause, fibromyalgia, and autoimmune diseases. As market segmentation plays out, products will likely be marketed into each of the health niches.

Indeed, there are other specified niches – including the growing sexual health and intimacy segment with social-media buzz about a “Clit Spritz” spray making it one of the most talked-about brands, while U.K. brand TheDrug.Store likewise markets offerings among intimacy and female wellness niches.