Aurora Cannabis (NASDAQ:ACB) remains one of the most talked-about cannabis companies on the market. Its rise and fall (and the beginning of another rise) have without question intrigued investors seeking to profit from the expansion of the global cannabis industry.

The marijuana stock has made investors a lot of money over the last three months: Aurora's shares are up more than 75%. But what kind of returns have the company's early investors made? If you have invested $10,000 at Aurora's initial public offering (IPO), you might be disappointed at how much money you'd have now.

Shadow of a dollar sign on top of a pile of cannabis leaves

Image source: Getty Images.

When to begin?

We have a problem right out of the gate in determining when to begin with Aurora. It's easy if we only look at the company's debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 23, 2018. However, Aurora was a publicly-traded stock well before it listed on the NYSE.

The company listed its shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) on July 24, 2017. We could use that as our start date in determining how much money you'd have with an initial investment of $10,000. But you could have bought shares of Aurora prior to that point, too.

Aurora moved up to the TSX from the TSX Venture Exchange. It had traded on the smaller exchange since Oct. 5, 2016. So we can use that as our beginning point, right? Um, not so fast.

Prior to listing on the TSX Venture Exchange, Aurora's shares traded on the Canadian Stock Exchange (CSE). Its predecessor company, Prescient Mining listed on the CSE in 2014.

$10,000 turned into...

If you had $10,000 in July 2014, you would have been able to buy 934 shares of the company that would soon become Aurora Cannabis. Fast forward to today, and that investment would now be worth close to $12,500. A 25% return over a five-year period isn't too exciting.

What if you had instead waited until Aurora listed on the NYSE? That $10,000 initial investment would have bought 110 shares at the market open for Aurora's NYSE debut. You'd now have at little under $1,500. That dismal 25% return over five years is starting to sound a lot better.

Since we're talking about hypothetical scenarios, let's look at how you would have fared had you bought Aurora in 2014 and sold the stock at its peak. On Jan. 23, 2018, Aurora closed at its all-time high of $141.67 per share. You would have had to be more prescient than Nostradamus to sell on that exact date. But if you had, you would have walked away with more than $132,300. 

In January 2018, Canada was still on the way to legalizing recreational marijuana. The hype about how big the market might grow had reached a fevered pitch. Aurora didn't hit its peak market cap of $11.2 billion, though, until a couple of days before the Canadian recreational pot market opened on Oct. 17, 2018. And it's been mainly downhill since then for Aurora. 

Looking ahead

Aurora's previous track record is all water under the bridge now. What really matters is what the stock does moving forward. And the jury is still out on how Aurora will fare in the future.

The company faces plenty of challenges, with its continued lack of profitability at the top of the list. Aurora's better-than-expected fiscal 2020 Q3 results bolstered hopes that the cannabis producer will be able to achieve its goal of positive adjusted EBITDA by the end of the current fiscal year. However, that still won't translate to clear-cut profitability.

On the other hand, the opportunities for Aurora are enormous. The Canadian cannabis derivatives market is just getting cranked up. Aurora is finally entering the U.S. hemp CBD market with its acquisition of Reliva. The prospects that U.S. marijuana laws could be changed in a way that allows the company to move into the huge U.S. cannabis market are looking better than they have in a while.

There's no guarantee buying Aurora Cannabis stock now won't lead to as great of a disappointment as investors who bought shares when the company first listed on the NYSE experienced. However, there's also at least a real chance that Aurora could deliver better returns than it has since it began trading on the CSE in 2014. Either way, it seems likely that Aurora Cannabis will continue to attract plenty of attention from investors looking to cash in on the expanding cannabis market.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.