Cannabis books: Up in smoke or high times?

We're kicking ourselves that we didn't get the idea for this blog post until we read everyone else's cannabis think-pieces for the first 4/20 since cannabis legalization in Canada. What can we say, the subject matter makes us forgetful?


Sales of cannabis in Canada since legalization on Oct. 17, 2018 are either "tepid" and inventory is piling up, or they're great and retailers are struggling to keep product on the shelf, depending on what form of cannabis you're after, and a survey from Statistics Canada reports that the number of Canadians trying pot for the first time is rising. But the real proof that cannabis acceptance is going mainstream is that even the Emily Post Institute has put out a book about pot etiquette.

There's no easy way to measure exactly whether sales for books about cannabis are up or down since the October 2018 legalization, since there's only one BISAC category that deals specifically with cannabis: GAR031000 Gardening / Marijuana Cultivation, and unit sales in that category in the English-language print market in Canada are too low to extrapolate any trends. But we still wanted to get an overall sense of whether the demand for books about cannabis has increased and whether the subject matter of the top-sellers has changed in the six months since legalization compared to the same time period in previous years.

Sales of Non-Fiction books about cannabis

Cannabis books in Canada since legalization: Up in smoke or high times? @BookNet_Canada investigates.

To get a sense of overall sales trends for cannabis-related books, we searched BNC SalesData for the top-selling Non-Fiction books in any BISAC category that had the word "marijuana" or "cannabis" in the title or subtitle. We found that the number of ISBNs with at least one sale in the Canadian English-language print trade market has been increasing over the past three years. In the 28 weeks since legalization (from Oct. 15, 2018 to the most recent reporting week, April 28, 2019) there were 220 titles with sales, while in the same 28-week period a year earlier (from Oct. 16, 2017 to April 29, 2018) there were 181 titles with sales. And if we go back to the period two years before legalization (the 28 weeks from Oct. 17, 2016 to April 30, 2017), there were only 172 titles with sales.

Number of cannabis-related Non-Fiction books with sales

Graph showing the number of ISBNs with sales in the three time periods.

The number of Non-Fiction books about cannabis with sales has been steadily, though slowly, rising over this three-year time frame, with a bit of a bigger jump between 2018 and 2019.

Does that suggest that publishers are putting out more books dealing with cannabis? Maybe. When we looked at the distribution of ISBNs with sales by publication year, we found that there has been a slight increase in the percentage of new books with sales in most recent 28-week period, when compared with the previous two years.

Percentage of books with sales by publication year

  2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 Older
Oct. 17, 2018 to April 30, 2019 4.5% 22.7% 15.5% 14.1% 10.9% 4.1% 27.3%
Oct. 16, 2017 to April 29, 2018   2.8% 20.4% 18.2% 16.6% 5.0% 37.0%
Oct. 15, 2016 to April 28, 2017     2.9% 20.9% 19.8% 9.3% 47.1%

But when we look at the 10 bestselling Non-Fiction books (in the print, English-language trade market) with "marijuana" or "cannabis" in the title or subtitle from Oct. 17, 2018 to April 30, 2019 (find the full list below), half of them were published in the period from May 2018 to April 2019. This suggests that there might not be significantly more titles being published, but that unit sales for new books are up compared with previous years. 

Speaking of unit sales, when we look at the total units sold for Non-Fiction titles with "marijuana" or "cannabis" in the title or subtitle, we found that sales went up 44% when comparing the 28-week period from Oct. 2016 to April 2017 to the same period from 2017 to 2018; and that sales went up another 142% from the 28-week-period from 2018-2019 when compared to the same period in the previous year.

Unit sales of Non-Fiction books with the word "marijuana" or "cannabis" in the title

Graph showing a slight increase in the percentage of sales between Oct. 2016-April 2017 and Oct. 2017-April 2018. And a larger increase to the Oct. 2018-April 2019 period.

It's likely that there were more marketing and publicity opportunities for cannabis-related books sold around the time of cannabis legalization in Canada. Maybe now that cannabis is legal, book reviews of previously taboo topics will become more and more mainstream.

Bestselling Non-Fiction books about cannabis

So what are the 10 bestselling Non-Fiction books with "marijuana" or "cannabis" in the title or subtitle, according to unit sales in the English-language print trade market? Let's take a look.

  1. The Little Book of Cannabis: How Marijuana Can Improve Your Life by Amanda Siebert 🇨🇦 (9781771644044, HEALTH & FITNESS / Herbal Medications, Oct. 17, 2018)

  2. The Cannabis Grow Bible: The Definitive Guide to Growing Marijuana for Recreational and Medicinal Use by Greg Green (9781937866365, GARDENING / Herbs, Aug. 18, 2017)

  3. A Woman's Guide to Cannabis: Using Marijuana to Feel Better, Look Better, Sleep Better–and Get High Like a Lady by Nikki Furrer (9781523502004, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Popular Culture, Dec. 25, 2018)

  4. Edibles: Small Bites for the Modern Cannabis Kitchen by Stephanie Hua (9781452170442, COOKING / Specific Ingredients / Herbs, Spices, Condiments, Nov. 6, 2018)

  5. Marijuana Grower's Handbook by Ed Rosenthal (9780932551467, GARDENING / Techniques, June 18, 2010)

  6. CBD: A Patient's Guide to Medicinal Cannabis by Juliana Birnbaum and Leonard Leinow (9781623171834, HEALTH & FITNESS / Herbal Medications, Oct. 31, 2017)

  7. Cannabis: A Beginner's Guide to Growing Marijuana by Danny Danko (9781571748461, GARDENING / Herbs, Aug. 29, 2018)

  8. The Easy Cannabis Cookbook: 60+ Medical Marijuana Recipes for Sweet and Savory Edibles by Kim Suarez and Cheri Sicard (9781939754325, HEALTH & FITNESS / Herbal Medications, Jan. 23, 2018)

  9. Grow Your Own: Understanding, Cultivating, and Enjoying Cannabis by Nichole Graf, Micah Sherman, Liz Crain, and David Stein (9781941040584, GARDENING / Techniques, Sept. 26, 2017)

  10. Tell Your Children: The Truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence by Alex Berenson (9781982103668, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Cultural Policy, Jan. 8, 2019)

Interestingly, none of the top 10 books use the sole BISAC category that mentions marijuana specifically, GAR031000 Gardening / Marijuana Cultivation, even though four of the top 10 are books about how to grow and cultivate cannabis plants. Two of the top 10 are cannabis cookbooks (even though one of them doesn't use a cooking BISAC, the title has the word "cookbook" in it). And three deal with the medicinal angle of cannabis and CBD, using the HEALTH & FITNESS / Herbal Medications category.

In the previous year, the BISAC categories for the top 10 titles broke down like this: three in the Health & Fitness category, three Gardening, two Social Science, one Cookbook, and one Humour. The year before that the categories were: two Health & Fitness, two Gardening, two Social Science, two Cookbooks, one Political Science, and one Body, Mind and Spirit. So there don't seem to have been any changes to the top subjects being used since legalization.

It will be interesting to see the results of this research a couple of years down the line. Will people be clamouring for cannabis cookbooks or will those books remain a novelty on the fringes of the category? Only time will tell.