Fast Five Q&A: Dr. Amanda Reiman, Founder of Personal Plants
There’s an old saying that goes, “Knowledge is power.” It’s a notion that especially resonates in the cannabis space. As an entirely new industry emerges from the shadows, there are myriad ways information can help move the space forward and help shift the societal narrative around the plant.
Dr. Amanda Reiman has a unique position in cannabis, harnessing the power of information to further the conversation and help the industry level up. As a former social worker, Dr. Reiman understands the critical need to meet people on their level. This experience guides her career, both as chief knowledge officer of cannabis analytics firm New Frontier Data and as the founder of educational platform Personal Plants, allowing Dr. Reiman to strike a balance in her quest for truth.
Dr. Reiman answered GreenState’s Fast Five questions, revealing her unique path in cannabis, the importance of data in the evolution of cannabis, and how to create a judgment-free future for the plant.
GreenState: How did your journey with cannabis begin?
Amanda Reiman: Professionally, I came to cannabis through learning about the social and racial injustices of the drug war. I moved to Oakland in 2002 to start the Ph.D. program in Social Welfare at Berkeley. I was already using cannabis for medical purposes in Chicago (albeit illegally), so when I moved to the Bay Area, I immediately got hooked into the local dispensary scene. I was floored at what I was witnessing. We didn’t really hear much about it in Chicago.
From a social work perspective, what I was seeing was unique, as many dispensaries offered services like massage and acupuncture for free, which was unheard of in general health and wellness services. And I was also taken aback by how little was known about medical cannabis use or the consumers themselves. So, I decided to study this phenomenon for my doctoral dissertation in 2005.
Personally, I started using cannabis in my late teens/early 20’s and enjoyed it from the start. I am pretty picky about my intoxication because I don’t like feeling out of control. Cannabis was great for me because I got therapeutic benefits while still feeling like myself. Then, in my mid-20s, I was diagnosed with arthritis and chose cannabis instead of regular cortisone injections, which was a great decision. Since then, I have also been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and scoliosis, so cannabis has allowed me to avoid other treatments like prescription painkillers. Those have their place and are very effective for breakthrough pain, but I did not want them to become a regular part of my routine. Cannabis is a regular part of my routine and I am better off for it.
GS: What is your favorite way to consume?
AR: I had always been a smoker. Glass pipes mostly, and sometimes joints with the occasional edible thrown into the mix. However, after consuming it that way for 20+ years, I was noticing effects like hoarseness in my voice, having to constantly clear my throat, and gum disease. I was also worried that it was aging my skin (something I started thinking about after 40!).
So, at the beginning of 2023, I stopped smoking and switched to flower vape and edibles. I am so glad I made the change! I have noticed huge differences in my voice, throat, teeth, and skin. And using a flower vape makes it a lot easier to consume when I am traveling. Smoking does not appeal to me at all anymore.
GS: How have you implemented your past experience as a social worker into the cannabis space?
AR: There are two tenets of social work that make a ton of sense in the context of cannabis. The first is “start where the client is.” The idea here is that everyone’s reality is different and is shaped by their unique past experiences. We have to meet people where they are at instead of asking them to join our reality.
In cannabis, this speaks to the impact of prohibition and propaganda. Some of us learned about the falsehoods in the government’s messaging about cannabis a long time ago and are not as impacted by the stigma of being a consumer and/or know how to ask for what we need in terms of cannabis products and knowledge. A lot of people are not there yet. We have to acknowledge this and meet them where they are rather than chastising them for believing something that we let go of a long time ago. Understanding the reluctance to embrace legalization and access is necessary if we are to change how people feel about it.
The second is the concept of harm reduction. Harm reduction simply means helping people reduce the chance of a harmful outcome related to a potentially risky behavior. Bike helmets and seatbelts are harm-reduction tools, as are condoms.
I studied the use of cannabis as a harm-reduction tool for the first time back in 2008. At that time, there was still a huge belief in cannabis as a gateway drug. My research showed that many were using it to reduce or eliminate the use of more harmful substances like alcohol and opiates. People were choosing cannabis to reduce the chance of harm from other substances.
I also think there is something to be said for harm reduction within cannabis use. Cannabis may have fewer risks than other substances, but it is not risk-free. Understanding how to minimize those risks is an important part of developing a balanced and healthy relationship with the plant.
GS: What are some ways the analytics gathered by New Frontier Data are helping the industry evolve?
AR: I am really proud of our annual consumer survey. As policies change and the market matures, consumers are changing too. For example, smoking flower is still the preferred method of ingestion among current consumers, but most non-consumers who are open to trying it say they would use edibles.
Behaviors around sourcing, decision-making on which products to buy, knowledge of things like terpenes and minor cannabinoids…these are all in flux. Our survey dives into these behaviors and how they are changing over time. And, unlike an internet survey, we use a complex sampling method to ensure that our sample is representative of the general population. We also survey people across state market types.
If businesses want to know how to set themselves up for future success and to stay ahead of consumer trends, this survey is a great resource. Gaining a better understanding of your consumer base is crucial for companies competing with each other and the unregulated market for a piece of the pie.
GS: Your blog, Personal Plants, helps to make cannabis accessible and approachable. How do you strike that balance?
AR: This goes back to meeting the person where they are at. During cannabis prohibition, we were not allowed to have nuanced, science-backed conversations about cannabis use. One side said it was nothing but harmful, and the other side said there were no risks at all. We know that the truth is somewhere in the middle, and that perspective is where Personal Plants comes in.
Because of propaganda, cannabis use has become a very judgment-laden activity. Furthermore, there is a population of newer consumers who don’t want to identify with the culture in order to enjoy the plant. Personal Plants meets them where they are and provides judgment-free, culturally agnostic information to help people minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of the plant.
I call myself the “Dr. Ruth of cannabis” because I admire how she takes a controversial subject like sex, that many are embarrassed to talk about, and makes it accessible and judgment-free. Just like cannabis, our lives will be richer, fuller, and healthier if we feel comfortable asking questions about cannabis and hearing positive yet realistic information about how to use it to our benefit.
Dr. Reiman is a social worker who has been studying the relationships between people and psychoactive plants for 20+ years. Dubbed the “Dr. Ruth of cannabis,” Amanda’s superpower is taking complicated and stigmatized information and making it accessible to the masses. Quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and elsewhere, she is the trusted voice and conscience of the cannabis space.
The answers given by Q&A subjects do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GreenState. The subject is solely responsible for the views stated in this piece.