Blazing a trail – the future of medical cannabis in global health

Blazing a trail – the future of medical cannabis in global health

The Cannabis Europa conference was held at London’s South Bank Centre last week, billed as a platform for leaders in European medical cannabis to discuss the most pressing challenges facing the industry today.

The medical cannabis industry has exploded over the last few years and is now truly entering the mainstream. Looking at the attendee list for this week’s conference it’s clear there is significant money and ambition invested in maximising cannabis’s medical potential

Growers, biologists, seed experts, physicians, investors and more than a few ex-pharma execs were represented at the event from as far flung places as Colombia, South Africa, Switzerland and New Zealand, all with an ambition to become major players in the future of what’s seen by believers as the next big thing in global medicine.

There is abundant real world and anecdotal evidence for the benefits of CBD oil and other cannabis-derived phytotherapeutic treatments. However, the large scale clinical trials that are the bedrock of the pharmaceutical industry simply don’t exist at this moment. Major trials are in the pipeline but these take years and until the body of proper clinical evidence starts to accumulate, there will be many, particularly in the medical and regulatory community, who remain unconvinced by the benefits. Challenges around quality (explored in more detail today in The Guardian) sustainability, the debate about legalisation for medical vs recreational use and public stigma around cannabis in general are just some of the other significant obstacles that the industry needs to overcome.

At the moment, outside a handful of more established markets such as Canada, Germany and some US states, there is a sense that the car is being driven and built at the same time with healthcare systems lagging way behind rapidly growing patient demand.

There is undoubtedly a need for strategic communications support for organisations throughout the supply chain. In the UK, the rapid growth of the industry and subsequent legalisation of medical cannabis on the back of some high profile patient cases in 2018, has left a knowledge and understanding gap among policy makers, the medical profession and the public. Even though it’s legal, without clinical evidence and knowledge of products and reputable producers, GPs appear reluctant to use their new prescribing powers for patients in the UK

The picture in Canada appears much clearer. Canada is leading the way globally when it comes to integrating cannabis-derived medical products into the health system. According to the country’s largest medical cannabis company, Aurora over 400,000 patients with conditions including chronic pain, epilepsy and anxiety and depression are being regularly treated with prescription cannabis products.

The political, medical and business will is there to make cannabis-derived medicine a major part of the future of global health. It remains to be seen which companies and influencers emerge from the current landscape to lead the way in shaping the systems that will be required to deliver this new generation of medicines to people who could benefit.

If you’d like to talk to Portland about navigating the UK health system and policy environment, email: [email protected].

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