Medical cannabis in the UK and the future of the industry

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Rick Brar, CEO and Chairman of Brains Bioceutical Corp., examines the medical cannabis landscape in the UK and the future direction of the industry

Despite the growing potential of the cannabis industry and wider adoption, the domestic distribution of medical cannabis remains low. This means that almost all medical cannabis prescribed in the UK is imported and not licensed. Confusing and cumbersome rules and restrictions put in place amid the uncertainty surrounding trade relations after Brexit did not help either. This also applies to companies that have overcome the various regulatory and legal hurdles to obtain the right licenses to manufacture and supply medical cannabis in the UK.

A prolonged global pandemic was a recipe for an unstable economy and resulted in increasing psychological distress and physical health problems for the general population. With a focus on self-sufficiency, well-being and improved health outcomes, the cannabis industry has seen a positive effect.

The industry has seen remarkable changes. More and more players are entering the market, new innovative and diverse products are offered and there is close cooperation on the table. Stigmas and mindsets change as the evidence base for medicinal cannabis strengthens. This opens the door to further reforms that will create a thriving cannabis industry in the UK.

The future direction of the industry

From an economic perspective, a strong, regulated legal cannabis industry can bring numerous economic benefits, including job opportunities, tax revenues, and R&D innovation. But how do we get there?

In September 2020, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued guidelines for listing medical cannabis companies on the London Stock Exchange. Although preliminary and subject to further consultation, the guidelines provided welcome relief to the industry and signaled UK investors the potential value of medical cannabis.

These guidelines provide real opportunities for UK-based cannabis companies to secure significant investments and help clear up ambiguity, increase transparency and legitimize the industry as a sector that can offer returns – economically and socially. It will also address domestic demand issues.

While the FCA’s guidelines signal a positive shift, barriers to entry and uncertainties about the criteria remain, hurting the confidence of serious investors.

Different rules and regulatory frameworks across Europe can also create complications for cannabis companies with borderless supply chains and affect scalability and growth in new markets. While there have been strong arguments for harmonizing policies and standardizing processes and practices in order to create reliable products at competitive prices, there is still a long way to go.

The differences in global cannabis legalization and the complex regulatory environment can lead to a lack of security and confidence in the industry, which is required to reach new heights and gain investment momentum. To overcome this there needs to be a body of evidence and research that provides valuable insight into the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in patients with a range of medical conditions. If science and medicine catch up, cannabis can move from being marginalized to mainstream – turning it away from treatment of last resort to proper course of treatment.

Developing pragmatic solutions based on compelling research, education and empowerment of the medical community, and regulatory coordination will be vital to the advancement of the industry. As the endocannabinoid system is built into medical education, the stigma behind prescribing medical cannabis becomes easier. Evidence-based on a rigorous scientific approach and methodology will also help clinicians and policy makers understand cannabis-based medicines (CBMPs) and support prescriptions and funding decisions.

There are over 900 CBD companies in the EU, but only a handful of companies that have the appropriate licenses and accreditations to commercially manufacture cannabidiol (CBD) from natural sources as an active ingredient (API) for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical purposes.

It is important that we raise the bar on product development through research and innovation to ensure products are accurate, consistent and safe before they reach a patient. As more high quality and refined cannabis products hit the market, patient experiences and access can only improve.

Medical cannabis in the UK

The medical cannabis industry in the UK has incredible potential. We must learn from the lessons and experiences of Canada and North America to ensure that the cannabis industry stays strong, fair and progressive. This will help destabilize the cannabis black market and ultimately protect public health. The legal industry can only thrive if more existing cannabis users choose the legal route and if the legal market is open, competitive and inexpensive.

With more evidence of medical cannabis, the UK’s restrictive regulations and impasse on how to obtain prescriptions will gradually improve. Therefore, we can be confident that the near future will bring more clarity, insight, and hope to millions of patients around the world to improve their lives and that of their families.

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