In this Cannabis Creative Interview, I sit down with Elana Goldberg, CEO of The Cannigma. We had a wide ranging conversation, talking about getting the right information to shorten your cannabis journey, moving beyond sativa and indica, and exploring personal privilege.
In the cannabis industry, education is key. And in my (highly biased) opinion, there are few platforms doing cannabis education as well as the Cannigma.
This success can be attributed to the vision and dedication of Elana Goldberg, CEO. Goldberg came to the Cannigma in 2019 as the chief content officer. When she took the mantle of CEO in mid-2020, monthly views came in just over 30,000 a month. Today, 18 months later, over 550,000 people seek out advice and answers from the Cannigma monthly.
Goldberg is a long-time cannabis user, but credits working for the Cannigma with giving her a deeper understanding for the plant. A journalist by trade, Goldberg loves to find an idea and follow it down. Working with the plant on a scientific and editorial level opened her mind to questions she hadn’t explored, from the biphasic effects of THC to confronting her privilege and consciously making a more inclusive space.
Goldberg is also my editor at the Cannigma, and someone I’ve followed for a while before working for the publication. I jumped at the chance to interview her, and I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.
What’s something you see in the industry that you’re a fan of?
EG: I’m based in Israel, but the majority of what I’m doing in the cannabis spaces is in America. Something that I really like that I see happening more is this focus on sensation-based products or sensation-based strains. Rather than talking about indica or sativa, instead of that outdated categorization, I really like it when companies are talking about the effect that a particular product can have.
Whether it’s uplifting or focusing or relaxing or sedating, that’s really the information that consumers are looking for. What is this gonna do to me? And as you and I know, you can’t tell for sure.
I think it’s the right direction in terms of helping consumers understand what they could be looking for, what are possible effects they could have and then kind of making their cannabis journey shorter. And when I say the journey should be shorter, I mean the journey to finding what types of products work for them. I think this is relevant for all cannabis consumers, but specifically for patients.
What’s something you don’t like?
EG: We have to stop using the indica/ sativa delineation.
It’s not that there’s no such thing as indica and sativa. There is and there was, but this is a morphological term. The point of these categorizations is to describe the plant; the height, the shape of the leaves. And maybe in really like original strains and the land race strains, there might have been a difference from a chemical perspective as well. But research has shown that it’s just not accurate that sativa is uplifting and indica is sedating. It’s much more about the combination of cannabinoids, THC and CBD, obviously, but also the minor cannabinoids and then the terpenes, of course.
The more we can move to terminology, this type I, type II, type III- anyone who’s not familiar with this, type I is high THC cannabis, type II is balanced cannabis or balance ratios, more or less of, of THC and CBD and then type III obviously is high CBD low or no THC.
I think giving categorizations either in that, or in the sensation- based naming that we mentioned before I think is just far more useful for consumers and more accurate as well. Cause we all know there’s no hundred percent sativa, a hundred percent indica anymore.
Talk to me about how the Cannigma is pushing for social equity in cannabis
EG: First of all, we’re quite a diverse group, we’re based all around the world. We’ve got team members here in Israel, the core team. We’ve got team members in the states. We’ve got a couple of team members who work with us on a full-time basis from India as well.
We have writers and scientific reviewers and contributors really all around the world in Australia and Europe and Latin America. I think that brings a lot of diversity in and of itself to the conversation, to our outlook. And so that’s the starting point for us.
From more of a content perspective, we work with a number of different brands in the space that are Black-owned, BIPOC-owned. It’s not only working with them in terms of promoting and supporting these types of businesses, but also promoting their social equity initiatives.
One of those examples that I wanna highlight is the work that we’re doing with Parallel at the moment. So Parallel partnered with the MCBA on a social equity report. When opportunities like that pop up where we get to help promote initiatives like this, it’s just an absolute, no brainer. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Let’s talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion
EG: I’m doing a course at the moment through UC Berkeley to become certified as a mindfulness meditation teacher. And there’s this DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion track in the program. And when we started talking about it, I found myself thinking, this is an international course. Why are we talking about something which is such a US story?
I found myself really questioning, what does this have to do with me? As we dug deeper into it, I challenged myself on it. At first I felt this resistance to the topic. And then I challenged myself on it, like, hang on a minute. You’re a Jewish person grew up in Australia, living in the Middle East where there’s contested land all over the place. There are issues of race right here in Israel. How can I possibly think this is not something that affects me?
The evolution of that journey for me has been understanding well, we’re not using the same terminology as what’s going on in the United States at the moment, but these issues are real. Looking at your own privilege when it’s never been spoken about like that is very confronting. So much growth that comes from it and I’m very grateful now that it was through the meditation course, but, very confronting.
It also was brought up to me even in recent years in terms of gender equality. We run webinars frequently at the Cannigma, and I remember being called out by a man in my team who was like, you keep putting together panels of white men. It’s like you and a bunch of white men. I noticed that I’m the only woman there, but I wasn’t actively doing anything about it. And now when I put together panels, I do think about diversity, both from a gender perspective and from a race perspective.
It’s being open to receiving that feedback. Don’t get me wrong- there was a moment where I was like, don’t tell me what to do. I’m a woman, there is a woman on the panel. I’m okay because I’m a woman, but we can be just as guilty of it.
Where do you see the future of the industry going?
EG: There’s a whole lot of different ways to tackle that question. From a regulatory perspective, I would really like if cannabis was regulated like broccoli.
We just had this conversation- it’s the end of the month and I have to work out like how we can pay each of our different suppliers in a way that’s not gonna end up with our bank account, or their bank account, or our PayPal, or their PayPal getting blocked.
Those initial regulatory and policy changes are gonna be huge. I hope that the industry goes to a place where there is no stigma or at least very little remaining stigma so that it can kind of operate freely.
And I think there’s also a lot of changes that are gonna be coming as the industry grows from like an economic perspective. You’re gonna have the bigger companies starting to eat up some of the smaller companies, which I know there’s a tendency to think like, oh no, it’s like the evil conglomerate coming, but this is really part of the net development of any industry. And I do think it’s part of getting rid of some of the crap out there.
What’s the biggest challenge the Cannigma has faced?
EG: It’s definitely when it comes to what we call from a digital marketing perspective is buying traffic. We basically can’t buy any good quality traffic or we can, but then we get our Facebook page closed down and our Google accounts closed down and we have to reopen them with different credit card and blah, blah, blah, and just honestly has not been worth it.
So the flip side of this, which is great, is that we’ve focused on our organic audience and the majority of our audience is coming through organic search.
As so often happens in the cannabis space, it’s a kind of challenge that ends up demanding creativity. But really I look forward to a time when we can advertise content, products, services, just like any other content, products or services. Working around all of those restrictions is a challenge, but like I said, it’s also an opportunity
What’s something you’re proud of accomplishing?
EG: Our organic traffic is one of our biggest achievements. When I took over as the CEO of the Cannigma, we were reaching about 30,000 users a month, which is great for a site that had been in there for just over a year at that point. And now this, this past month we finished with 550,000 unique users coming to the site. So it’s just like insane growth. And what that means to me is that’s half a million people every month coming to the website to get good quality answers to their questions about cannabis, whether it’s like, how do I make weed gummies or whited cannabis, my eyes red, or how do I decarb or can cannabis help with anxiety?
People are asking questions and getting good quality answers. That’s what we came here to do. And I’m super proud.
What do you want someone to take away from the Cannigma site?
EG: The site is designed in such a way that it’s clean and it’s clear, and that’s what I want all of our messaging to be.
And also, I feel like it’s like a step away from these two extremes that tend to happen in the cannabis space between medical and stoners. We’re really trying to kind of take a line in the middle and I hope that people get that feeling just by coming to the site. It can be medical or it could be recreational, but it’s inclusive in that way.
Something else that we’re working on a lot at the moment is interactive tools. We’ve got two interactive tools that are live on the site at the moment. One is to help consumers find the strain or the cannabis product that’s best for them. Another one that we’ve got is helping users find the best consumption method for them.
EG: The Cannigma cookbook! This is a downloadable PDF. It’s got our favorite recipes from the Cannigma, those that get the most traffic and also those that we see as kind of the base recipes when it comes to the cannabis kitchen. And we’ve also teamed up with chef Jordan Wagman, who’s a James Beard nominated chef based in Canada and he’s creating 10 original recipes for this cookbook. You can download that now.
What’s your favorite way to consume cannabis?
EG: I’m a smoker. I’m a flower girl and I’m a smoker. I’m a smoker in my soul. My throat and my lungs don’t always thank me for it. I do vape a little bit.
I wanna just touch the plant. I used to be more of a bong girl in my younger days and now there’s nothing like a joint that you roll yourself.
What’s your favorite fun fact about cannabis?
EG: What blew me away the most when I started kind of working on the Cannigma was the biphasic effect.
Cannabis, like many other substances can have not only different effects in different doses, but opposite effects in different doses. For example, at a low dose cannabis can have an anti-anxiety effect and then at a high dose can actually trigger anxiety and even paranoia. At a low dose, it can be very calming on the stomach and at a high dose, we all know what greening out feels like, the opposite of calming the stomach. The reason I found this so interesting is, first of all, to understand that if you’re having an experience and it’s not sitting well with you, more cannabis is not the way to go.