Is Left-Brain Thinking Destroying Cannabis?

Back in the day, we had visions of a utopian cannabis marketplace, one with easy access to quality bud and cozy smoking lounges where like-minded folk waxed lyrical on the value of ritual over shared bongs. We imagined a world devoid of stigma and arrests and the war of drugs, a world where getting high is as natural as, well, grass. Instead, what we have today is chaos. Where did it all go wrong? Is cannabis the problem? Or out-of-date bureaucratic thinking?

It was when I was doing research into the cannabis licensing process for a client that I started thinking about the undue influence of bureaucratic thinking in cannabis, how pervasive and unseen it is. The people who are designing the licensing process aren’t thinking about the real life experience for the cannabis consumer, and on top, the people who assess the applications work behind closed doors, inaccessible to the public.

Yet, these are the people who are effectively in charge of creating this industry. They determine who gets a green light and who doesn’t. Who are they? What are their priorities? How are they making the decisions? I’ve looked at various cannabis business plans, and where most of them fall down is in their marketing, as all of them are aiming for a mass market. Most products are not mass market. On top, research shows the cannabis market is fragmented.

So, why do none of the business plans for cannabis reflect that? And why are the majority of green-lit projects those that aim for global domination? Isn’t it shortsighted, greedy, and unrealistic to think one company could serve the needs of millions? Especially in a market as fragmented as cannabis? More importantly, today, in a climate where everyone is talking about diversity, where is this myopic view coming from? Is it unique to cannabis?

What is Left-Brain Thinking?

Jordan Peterson has a new podcast on YouTube, and last week he spoke with Dr. Ian McGilchrist on the economic, social and cultural implications of left versus right brain thinking (right hemisphere v left hemisphere.) It answered many of the questions I’d been asking in relation to cannabis, though the discussion is more general, examining the meeting point of mythology, psychology and philosophy.

Dr. McGilchrist describes how left-brain thinking is detail-orientated and systematic. It wants to “reduce everything to a system” that’s easy to manage and control. It “values numbers above the reality of living.” It wants to “turn everything into a commodity.” The left-brain is also responsible for denial, meaning if it wants to deny something, it will. It sees the world as mechanical, in black and white, without nuance.

The right brain, by contrast, is the big picture thinker. It sees the full scope of possibility in the world, replacing the reason of the left-brain with imagination and intuition. In the world of the right brain, everything is possible, but of course, it needs the left-brain to actually get stuff done. Both working together is required to set goals and then achieve them. Dr. Gilchrist sees contemporary systems that treat humans as numbers as a symptom of left-brain thinking.

The implications are huge. He explains how a mechanical world leads to loss of values, and in turn, anxiety and depression. This forces people to seek out certainty, preferring to cling to “false certainties” as way to claim some sense of control. The result of this is a lot of false beliefs and abstract metrics. Dr. McGilchrist gives the example of scientific research, where ticking certain boxes is often more important than the utility of a study.

Left-Brain Thinking in Cannabis

Some months ago I spoke with an exec who was in Canadian cannabis boardrooms back in 2018, when they were trying to figure out how to scale up production. Naturally, their focus was on production, so they spoke to cultivators to get some answers. They spoke to the cultivators who were available to them, which meant black market dudes who were used to growing outdoors in the woods. This turned out to be a bad combination.

What we now know is that around 80% of Canadian cannabis production has been destroyed since 2018. One of Canada’s flagship cannabis companies, Canopy Growth, is struggling, worth almost nothing due to a track record of bad decisions and wasted money. From the get-go, the company was built on a house of cards, on numbers, big numbers that made zero sense, and their performance today demonstrates that. But it didn’t stop others from copying the model.

Nor has it stopped the industry thinking those kinds of numbers are the gold standard. I recall talking to a Europe-based broker back in 2019, and at the time, she was moving millions of seeds around the globe. I’ve talked with CBD companies who have tons of isolate in storage. And we all see the small operators being pushed out, replaced by corporations with millions in investment and flashy clean rooms that look as inviting as a dentist’s office.

Meanwhile, cultivators who have been growing weed for decades and have real expertise are scrambling to stick around. Most have already been forced out, the idea of “craft” cannabis dismissed as quaint by the industry. But it’s exactly that kind of numbers-based thinking that’s preventing brands to differentiate from the black market, as it overlooks the preferences of actual customers. Worse, it doesn’t value customers, doesn’t even see them.

Right-Brain Thinking in Cannabis

This is not a rant against capitalism. This is a rant against the systematic flattening of a once vibrant marketplace and a missed opportunity to create true innovation by not fucking with nature. This is a rant against systems that think they can outsmart nature. This is not a rant against the people who run those systems. We’re all part of the system. We create it, participate in it, and propagate it.

In the podcast, Dr. Peterson and Dr. McGilchrist also discuss the Egyptian symbol, the famous Eye of Horas, and how it represents the all-seeing eye, able to see the bigger picture. Implicit in that seeing is the understanding that big picture thinking is the antidote to totalitarian thinking and practices. Put simply, awareness of the implications of action ipso facto gives rise to reflection.

“In the bureaucrat’s view of the world, the human being is left out,” says Dr. McGilchrist. The creation of a new industry demands right brain thinking in terms of being able to answer the question: what is all this for and how will it benefit society? At a time when cannabis sales are falling in mature markets, and being removed from exchanges in others, when employees are leaving the industry in droves, and millions of prisoners linger in jail, isn’t it time to check the thinking on cannabis?

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Published by The Healthy Hashhead

The Healthy Hashhead is a writer, poet, cannabis educator and sports nutritionist, dedicated to spreading the message of the conscious consumption through unique content that speaks to regular users of cannabis.

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