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The coronavirus has fundamentally altered and elevated the health and wellness space in the last two years in ways that will continue to impact brands in 2022.
Faced with existential uncertainty and chronic stress, many people chose to focus on stabilizing their own health and wellness, taking active measures in order to reduce stress, improve sleep, and maintain both physical and mental health.
The demand for supplements skyrocketed, which makes sense. When reality feels out of control, consumers reach for products that help with mood, prevent illness and strengthen our systems for the challenges of uncertainty—and that demand is only predicted to grow.
Another by-product of the pandemic: Cannabis proved itself to be recession-proof, and millions of Americans found cannabinoids to be a key source of plant-derived stress relief. Mushrooms are having a moment as well (both psychedelic and otherwise), and their popularity further underscores the revived Western interest in ancient herbal medicine traditions and rising consumer appetite for plant-based alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs. Millennials and Gen Z are leading the charge in their openness to natural remedies and integrative health—they’re all about the ounce of prevention.
All of these developments are good news for consumers, brands, and investors in the supplement space as well as those in cannabis, hemp, and fungi. Here are the trends I see dominating markets in 2022.
Supplements that enhance cognitive performance are in higher demand than ever—after all, who doesn’t want a better brain? But increasingly, consumers are taking the long view, investing in supplements like pharmaceutical grade Omega-3s, CBD, herbs, and mushrooms with neuroprotective properties. Preserving brain function is top of mind for many older Americans; Gen Xers and millennials also want nootropics, but for different reasons. They seek natural brain boosters that will help them focus and increase their productivity without the unpleasant side effects of caffeine, sugar, or prescription medications.
Stress and upheaval of the pandemic have led people to place a higher priority on calm, clear thinking. The pandemic fundamentally altered our approach to mental health—most of us found life tougher to navigate, and many people needed more support to cope with issues like fatigue and brain fog. No wonder nootropics that have been shown to reduce the impact of stress spiked in popularity.
The year 2022 may very well be fungi’s biggest year yet. Books like Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind, the documentary Fantastic Fungi, and regular headlines on the genuinely thrilling new research emerging from the Johns Hopkins Psychedelic Research Unit have brought psychedelic exploration and therapeutics into the mainstream. Psychedelics are looking like the next big investor movement—indeed, the psychedelic market is projected to reach $10.75 billion by 2027. At Fortune, investor Sean McClintock linked the rush to invest to the pandemic: “In the context of a post-COVID world, psychedelic health care will become an essential tool in the treatment of worsening mental health issues.”
Science is also revealing that even non-magic mushrooms have some pretty astounding qualities: from lion’s mane and its impact on brain health, cordyceps’s immune system effects, and chaga’s anti-inflammatory properties, it’s no wonder a population newly interested in preventative health is seeking them out.
3. Cannabis legalization
This seeming pipe dream of national cannabis legalization could actually become a reality in 2022. The first-ever Republican-proposed federal bill to legalize marijuana was introduced this past November; nearly half of the Republican voters support decriminalization at the federal level. A whopping 91% of Americans support legalization in some form. The DEA has signaled that Delta 8 (a controversial cannabinoid similar to THC that’s usually derived from hemp) is not federally prohibited, which puts even more pressure on the federal government to act on legalization. A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute states frankly that “Federal legalization of the cannabis industry appears likely to happen within the next few years.” We may actually reach the tipping point for legalizing cannabis nationwide in the coming year—which would unleash a flood of change. New tax revenue alone is estimated at $128.8 billion, and legalization could result in 1.6 million new jobs. Research on cannabis therapeutics will explode. The economic impact will create disruption the likes of which Silicon Valley technologists could only dream of. I’m keeping a close eye on this space—anyone adjacent to health and wellness should do the same.
If we’ve learned anything in the pandemic, it’s the need for resilience and the ability to adapt in the face of disruption and change. But consumers’ growing interest in natural and preventative health measures is, in my view, a positive development. Seeing health as a long-term commitment that involves daily choices, proactivity and self-care won’t just drive markets—it will result in better health outcomes for everyone.