The medicinal cannabis industry has undergone a revolutionary process – quite literally, and the first documented usage stems as far back as 2,700 BC by the legendary Chinese emperor Shen Nung.
Fast forward to the year 2000 when the court ruled that Canadians have a constitutional right to use cannabis as a medicine and you truly get an idea of how long the process can be from the first identification of a product as medicine to legalisation.
So let’s talk about what a legal medicinal cannabis market means. Dr Michael Verbora, Chief Medical Officer of Aleafia Health in Ontario, Canada, pointed out in a recent conference that cannabis is the only drug in the world that has been studied backwards. Traditionally, medicines are studied and evaluated for their positive attributes and clinical trials and research done around those areas. Once a clear, positive and consistent effect is seen, the drug proceeds through trials and is released into the market. Negative attributes and side effects are noted but not studied – which has led to massive drug recalls over the years from the pharmaceutical industry as you will have a drug that worked very positively for one condition but causes severe other conditions. Medications to treat simple disorders have been found years later to cause cancer.
I personally experienced this in Barbados in my early 20s when it was discovered I had multiple pulmonary embolisms in my left lung and I was put on the blood thinner Warfarin for a six-month period. That medication undoubtedly treated and cured my condition, but it has left me with two chronic digestive disorders that 20 years (and tens of thousands of dollars) later cause me daily problems. This product is now very rarely used for the treatment of this condition for this reason.
On the cannabis side of the drug trials, Dr Verbora stated it was the ONLY medicine in the world that has been studied from the negative side first, to truly test and evaluate the negative properties and place restrictions based on those properties. With those defined, the positive attributes have then been studied making it quite technically, the most clearly defined medicine on the market in terms of negative effects and therefore, the safest.
Let’s be very clear, cannabis is not a miracle drug that just anyone should use without guidance and education. It’s important when discussing this as a medicine, that it is treated as a medicine, and that requires regulation and quality control. Medicine cannot simply be grown in a field with no parameters. There are very strict measures in place to ensure consistency and high-quality standards. Think about the standard over-the-counter medication you get right now. You will buy Advil Extra Strength with the faith and knowledge that two capsules will help your headache, and that every single bottle on the shelf has the same consistent product within it. Consistency and standards for pharmaceutical grade products are only available under lab conditions and with strict testing and standards. This is a key differentiator between evaluating a product as a Natural Health Supplement and as a medicine.
Cannabis in Barbados is being discussed at Parliamentary level to legalise for medicinal use. So what are the five top considerations in evaluating a medicinal cannabis industry?
1. According to a large number of varied polls, throughout the legacy (unregulated) market and the regulated market, it’s been established that over 80 per cent of current cannabis users are using this product to solve medical problems. This, in itself, does not make all cannabis medicine, but opens the door for both market evaluation and the ability to study conditions chronically being treated by this product. The top three conditions listed are chronic pain, insomnia and stress relief.
2. Cannabis as a medicine, must be treated as a medicine and not as a natural health product. This requires a regulated industry with high quality standards. The same rules that apply to the creation of a medicine should apply.
3. Medical professionals and patients need to be educated about this product to evaluate whether it is right for them or not and what methods to use.
4. Ease of access for patients needs to be incorporated into early stage planning of regulations.
5. Affordability is a critical aspect that should be incorporated into a medical regulation plan. The same discounts and benefits being applied to other medications should be applicable to this one including taxation breaks.
Sarah Seale is the president and managing partner of Canadian company Cannabis Management Resources Inc.