Linda Gilbert is no stranger to finding out the answers to the questions that nobody has dared to ask.

Gilbert got her first taste of probing taboo topics when she spearheaded the consumer research project for the popular erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra, in the mid-to-late 1990s. It was the first research of its kind for the first product of its kind. Gilbert confidently calls it the “most rewarding research project” she’s ever done, largely because she had her own pre-conceived notions about the product challenged at every turn.

thumbnail Linda Gilbert

Linda Gilbert

As she prepares to delve into the first-ever “scientifically rigorous and trended research survey dedicated to cannabis consumers” with cannabis market research company BDS Analytics, she expects something similar.

“When we’re in this [kind of] situation – like with Viagra – you go into it with certain assumptions, and you very quickly see that your assumptions are probably not correct,” Gilbert told Civilized.

When it came to Viagra, she says, researchers assumed that demand for the drug would stem largely from men’s needs to improve their self esteem, when in fact, it turned out to be more about a desire to provide pleasure to their partners.

False assumptions, whether with regard to Viagra back in the day or cannabis today, exist and thrive in large part due to a “real lack of hard data”, said Gilbert. That’s why it’s so important that thorough and statistically sound research be done on cannabis right now, at a time when the multi-billion dollar industry is just beginning to blossom in numerous directions.

The quantitative trend study is poised to roll out in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California over the coming months. Thousands of people representing each state’s census demographics will be asked about their respective relationships with cannabis.

How does cannabis enhance well-being, improve sex?

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Questions that researchers are striving to answer include: Why are people using marijuana? How does it improve their overall sense of well-being? Who is reaching out to marijuana to relieve pain and anxiety, enhance social interaction and even improve sex? How does it help older consumers deal with stress, anxiety, arthritis, depression and boredom? How does it affect alcohol use, and influence dependency on pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter pain relievers?

The work already began with a series of focus groups in Denver, detailing everything from dispensary experiences to the reasons for consuming cannabis. Gilbert said the experience to date has already managed to question a number of the assumptions she personally held about cannabis.

“I think one of the big things that surprised me very much that seemed to be a common thread through all the interviews was that, while there is a recreational and social side to [cannabis use]…there was also this very purposeful side to it,” says Gilbert.

“[People were talking about cannabis] in terms of it improving their feeling of wellbeing throughout the day, or it making them ‘more the kind of person [they] want to be.’ [Some said they] take longer walks and appreciate being outdoors and with [their] friends more. And it was those sort of recognitions of the very purposeful benefits [of cannabis] that really surprised me.”

Gilbert also found herself surprised by the difficulty researchers faced in finding youth to participate in the focus groups. She’d always assumed that cannabis was, for the most part, a young people’s game.

“When we were recruiting in Denver for focus groups, we were told ‘it’s a college thing’ and ‘it’s all these young people.’ It was harder to recruit people under 35 than over 35. That was something that made us go, ‘Wow, really?’” said Gilbert. “I think we’re going to find that cannabis, in many ways, is a big solution for older people [for improving quality of life]. It’s not just a college kids thing.”

Gilbert is clear, however, that this is not going to be an “advocacy study.” Along with the potential benefits of cannabis use, researchers want to find out “the concerns, the worries, the downsides” that consumers experience in relation to the drug.

“We want to know the good news and the bad news,” she said. “We want to understand what consumers are thinking, what their motivations are and what benefits they feel they’re achieving – if any.”

The study is slated to be concluded in the early fall. Once the results are released, it’s the hope of BDS Analytics that brands, entrepreneurs, investors, dispensaries, growers, advertisers and media will gain “vital insights into cannabis consumer profiles, trends and habits.”

Businesses will be able to purchase the data, which may be of particular interest to those who take the opportunity to include a few of their own questions in the survey (which can be done by contacting Gilbert at 727-906-3319). The work is expected to continue with detailed updates every six months, with the hope that it will eventually expand to become a national study.

“When we’re in a time of transition like this, it’s really important to be making good decisions, and we can’t make good decisions if we don’t have good data,” said Gilbert. “We have a lot of opportunity to get this right, and I think that it’s important to get it right. We don’t want to get it wrong. We don’t want to people to be harmed in any way. We want them to be healthier. And we want them to be happier.”

Click here to learn what research revealed when comparing sex to music.