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UK firm aims to become world-leading medical cannabis producer

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British medical cannabis company Avida Global has secured multi-million pound investment to move into commercial production next year. Those at the top tell Sarah Sinclair why they are uniquely placed to take on the sector.

In north east Colombia, just below the Andes, the beginnings of something potentially groundbreaking is taking root.

With 240 hectares of high grade flat land, abundant water and power and shelter from the mountains, Avida Global’s production facility, La Finca Manizales, is vast in its potential.

The British producer of cannabis oils and isolates founded in 2018, has recently secured £3m of investment as it moves towards beginning commercial production early next year.

The site is currently home to one football pitch sized greenhouse, but the funding will allow for the installation of two additional facilities and a custom-built post harvest room for drying and extraction.

This will take the total growing space to 15,000 square metres – putting it among the top three producers in Colombia in terms of scale. But this is just the beginning.

Avida has a license for up to 100 acres and at full production the facility will be visible from space, with 30 greenhouses – each one the size of a football pitch – producing around 20 tonnes of pure cannabis oil a year.

If it sounds almost incomprehensible, that’s because it is. The global cannabis market is growing rapidly – is estimated to be US$150 billion today and expected to grow to US$272 billion by 2028.

But in terms of where it can go, it’s still in its infancy.With a team of world-class experts, both on the ground and in the boardroom, Avida is set to be among those leading the way.

CEO David Kirby comes from a business background, having worked high up for the likes of Capgemini and Shell, while chief of operations, Carl Haffner has spent 15 years in horticulture, and chief financial officer, Peter Ryan-Bell, is a former banker who spent 22 years in the financial sector.

Meanwhile, over in Colombia the team is led by world-class scientists and agronomists, with the cost of labour allowing the company to recruit a highly-skilled workforce at a fraction of the cost.

“We pride ourselves on producing the very highest quality, but at a very low cost price for what we’re doing,” explains David over Zoom

“We’ve spent a long time assembling a team of scientists and agronomists who have three to four years experience of medicinal cannabis – in this new market that’s the equivalent of 40 years – they are some of the most experienced in the world.”

Back in the UK, Lord Benjamin Mancroft, is chairman of the company, as well as one of the country’s most knowledgeable parliamentarians on the subject of drug use and an influential advocate for legalisation.

David continues: “It gives us an air of respectability and integrity in this business. There are lots of people jumping on the bandwagon, but the way we’re doing it is with absolute integrity, we’re not cutting any corners, quality is absolutely the heart of what we do.”

He adds: “It’s a large investment to get where we need to be, but it will be worth it, because it will position us as one of the global leaders.”

The location and climate in Colombia will allow the team to grow between five and six crops a year, while the computer-controlled greenhouses maintain the right light and humidity, while protecting from environmental factors such as heavy rain and pests.

They also grow hydroponically, using a benign substance, coconut substrate, to ensure there are no added pesticides or nutrients in the flower. The set-up means Avida can produce a broad spectrum of genetics.

“We will produce very high grade oils, isolates or crystal isolates, but we are not producing end-user products, we’re selling to companies that will produce those items.

“Typically our market will be pharmaceutical, medical and eventually food and beverage companies,” David explains.

However a large part of work will be centred around funding research and working with pharmaceutical companies to create the specific strains needed to treat certain conditions.

Avida’s chief medical officer is one of the leading trauma clinicians in Colombia, currently driving research into the use of cannabis in PTSD. “There’s all sorts of opportunities and we want to get involved in research in Colombia,” adds David.

“We will do more research and have the potential to globally integrate and put some unique products onto the market.”

Dr Inbar Maymon-Pomeranchik

It is this research which is vital in producing the safest and most effective products for patients, as Dr Inbar Maymon-Pomeranchik, scientific advisor at Avida and one of the world’s leading experts on medicinal cannabis, points out.

“Medical cannabis came about in the opposite way to other medicines, we are working backwards,” she says, on a separate Zoom call from her home in Israel where she is a scientist and Biotech Investment consultant.

“We know the cannabis plant is amazing, but we don’t know what molecules are doing what – we know that it helps, but we want to know exactly how it helps – and this is the work that is being done at the moment.

Dr Maymon-Pomeranchik continues: “Just growing cannabis isn’t enough, as a grower you need to know what to grow, how to grow it, where to grow it and how to use it afterwards – that is the most important thing to understand if we want to use it as a medicine. It has to go hand in hand with research and knowledge.”

Working daily with leaders in the sector, Dr Maymon-Pomeranchik’s insight and research will be vital to Avida moving forward as more evidence is published about the effectiveness of cannabinoids for specific health conditions.

“Everyday we know new things. There is a lot of knowledge that is coming out that is going to help companies like Avida to do the things the right way,” she says, referring to a recent study which showed a rare cannabinoid could be used to treat colon cancer.

“Cannabis is a big word and so is cancer, there are many types of cancer and 144 cannabinoids. If I know what type of cannabinoid we need, we can search for a strain that has it and grow it at Avida in order to have our own formulation that we already know works in the laboratory.”

Dr Maymon-Pomeranchik believes that this puts Avida in a strong position to take on the global cannabis market and ultimately improve the lives of patients across the world.

“There are a lot of producers but there are not enough good producers that know how to use the best strain,” she says.

“Having the best team and the connection to science and to research to conduct clinical trials puts Avida in a very good position.

“Cannabis is life-changing for people but you have to use it smartly and it has to go hand in hand with the science, because it’s evolving all the time.”

Industry

Italy classes CBD as a narcotic in ‘laughable’ move

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CBD has been declared a narcotic under new regulations in Italy, with products banned from being sold by retailers.

Legislation from the Ministry of Health, published in Italy’s Official Gazette on Thursday 15 October states that CBD has been added to the country’s list of medicines.

It was followed by a separate order from Italy’s Customs and Monopoly Agency warning retailers not to sell flowers, oils, resins or other products containing substances extracted from hemp, according to Italian website fanpage.it.

The regulations appear to be in conflict with a recent order from the Agriculture Ministry in the country that listed hemp flowers for “extraction uses” as an agricultural product.

Experts in the UK have described the situation as ‘laughable’ and a ‘bureaucratic mess’.

Peter Reynolds, of CannaPro, the trade association for the UK’s cannabis, CBD and hemp businesses, told Cannabis Health: “Two departments in the Italian Government seem to be contradicting each other, it’s laughable really.

“The whole situation is a complete nightmare. This is what happens when a bunch of bureaucrats meddle in something that they don’t understand.”

The move comes amid uncertainty over the future of CBD in Europe, following a ‘preliminary conclusion’ issued earlier this year that the cannabinoid and other extracts from hemp flowers would be better regulated as narcotics under the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

This would make it impossible for the market to exist in its current form and would be ‘devastating’ for the industry, according to Peter.

It would completely devastate the industry. It would put thousands and thousands of people out of work, probably tens of thousands, as it would extend into all the eastern European states, where producing hemp for CBD is quite a big industry.

“I just cannot see how they could even conceive of doing it.”

Next month the European Court of Justice (CJEU) is expected to rule on whether restricting the sale of CBD products legally produced in other EU countries breaches the rules of the European single market, following the prosecution of French company, Kannavape for importing CBD products from the Czech Republic.

As CJEU rulings are binding on EU institutions as well as member states, a decision on whether CBD should be classed as a narcotic would have to be respected by the European Commission.

Peter, who expects the Kannavape case to be upheld, is hopeful that the whole thing will be resolved before the end of the year.

“The European Commission will have to back down and they’ll go back to novel food regulations,” he added.

“The whole thing should have been stopped a long time ago.”

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Industry

Is CBD the new G&T?

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In the current Covid climate people are reaching for the bottle – but it’s not necessarily about the booze.

Come 6pm, who doesn’t want to hear the ice clink against the sides of the glass?

Just like cocktails drunk as the sun dips below the horizon, the tonic fizzing to the surface and the garnish of orange marks a moment in time. It’s the feeling of relief at the end of the day, mixed with a touch of anticipation for the night that lies ahead.

For some nothing could take the place of the ecstasy of an eagerly anticipated gin and tonic as sliding down their throat.

But with one in five people in the UK now teetotal, many people are looking for something different.

Whether it’s in moments of stress or celebration, they want to replicate that experience without the added, often unwanted, effects that alcohol brings.

Craig Hutchison, founder of Ceder’s non-alcoholic gin and recently launched CBD Botanical Spirit, Maria and Craig’s, says booze-free options are becoming more popular across the board.

“We’re seeing popularity increasing across all demographics and age groups,” he says.

“A lot of people want to have these adult moments but we don’t want that alcoholic effect because we’ve got to go pick up the kids or to the gym, or we’ve got more emails to answer.”

He continues: “20 percent of people in the UK don’t drink alcohol at all, sometimes this is down to religious reasons, but more and more people are taking part in initiatives such as ‘Dry January’ or ‘Sober October’.

“It’s almost a bit rude now to have a dinner party without a non-alcoholic spirit, beer or sparkling wine.”

After a long career in the alcohol industry, Craig and wife Maria launched Ceder’s non-alcoholic gin in 2018 to give adults more alcohol-free options, away from the usual sparkling water and lemon or diet coke.

Now the couple have gone one further with a blend of premium CBD isolate, distilled sage, chamomile, juniper and orange blossom, alongside other natural botanicals for an extra special adult experience.

Each 500ml bottle contains 25mg of CBD, but with just 2.5mg per measurement, the focus is on enhancing an experience rather than boasting the highest concentration.

“An adult drink experience starts well before you actually make your drink,” says Craig.

“It starts when you first discover the brand and continues when you actually buy it to when you spend the time making yourself a great drink, to the benefits of having it and sharing it with others – it’s not all about the consumption moment.”

Craig continues: “We went for a very low dosage because it’s up to the individual to enjoy drink in the right way for them.

“The benefits depend on the person and how they feel at that moment.”

It comes as no surprise that the coronavirus pandemic has had people looking for a little more release from the stress and anxieties of everyday life.

A recent report from Prohibition Partners, the leading source for data on the global cannabis market, suggested that cannabis-based beverages have the potential to become a multi-billion dollar global industry within the next decade, particularly as we enter a post-coronavirus world.

Craig felt this was the perfect time to launch Maria and Craig’s.

“The brand is about giving you a sense of calm, taking away the stresses of life and there’s so much uncertainty and fear out there, we hope we can play a role in taking a little bit of the edge off,” he says.

Figures from the Global Drug Survey, published last month showed that almost half of Britons were drinking more during lockdown, reporting loneliness, depression and anxiety as the main factors. But a third of those asked also reported that alcohol made their mental health worse.

Craig would agree that alcohol may not be the best option for people in that situation.

“A lot of people are resorting to alcohol and self-medicating and it’s up to each individual to decide when they should or shouldn’t drink alcohol, but I would say that when you’re stressed and anxious, it’s not always the way to go.”

While some in the industry have suggested CBD beverages could help tackle the culture of alcohol abuse, Maria and Craig’s is more about providing people with an alternative option, explains Craig: “The consumption of alcohol is so much a part of society and it has been thousands and thousands of years, but we’ve kind of lost our way in terms of the overindulgence in it.

“There is a role to play for CBD products, but that’s not our reason for launching. We are not anti-alcohol, far from it, we are giving people another option.”

He adds: “That sunset moment has very little to do with the alcohol, it’s about that moment of relaxation, of connecting and sharing those 10 minutes with yourself or your loved ones.

We’ll drink to that.

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‘Historic moment’ for cannabis thanks to Covid-19 boom

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The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has helped transform cannabis from taboo to table-talk, says one industry insider.

Several CBD companies have claimed they saw online sales soar as Covid-19 hit, but those in the industry believe the pandemic could be transforming attitudes towards cannabinoids on a much greater scale.

With lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures resulting in pub closures, but anxieties still running high, CBD products are becoming the go-to to help cope with challenging times.

This is according to John Ramsay (pictured), CEO of American brand Infinite CBD, which has reported a significant spike in interest in the industry since the virus arrived in the US.

John, who has several years of experience in the CBD and technology sectors, believes the increase in information available online has allowed people – some who may have previously opposed cannabis – to do their own research and in some cases has shifted opinions.

“This is a historic moment for cannabis in general,” he told Cannabis Health.

“The increase in the sales and consumption of cannabis and hemp-based products, is a great illustration of how cannabinoids have become one of the go-tos when looking for something to help us cope with hard times and difficult conditions.

“Cannabis and hemp are becoming common table talk. With more time on their hands than ever, people who were previously opposed or unsure if cannabis would be a good fit for them are doing research, reading reviews and giving it a chance for themselves.”

John continued: “This is great news for the future of the industry, as people who were previously just curious have flocked to cannabis and hemp products to help improve their quality of life, even through the most challenging of times.

“This is eye opening considering the go-to would normally have been alcohol.”

A US survey earlier this year found that more than a quarter of Americans were drinking less during the lockdown, with 33 percent of respondents saying the main reason was the closure of pubs and bars.

This can only be a good thing for the cannabis industry, says John.

“I believe the long term effects of Covid on the industry will be mostly positive.

“With countless people giving cannabinoids a chance for their first time, or making the switch from a more damaging coping method, COVID has helped cannabis begin the transition from being taboo to more common,” he said.
Covid has had downsides for all industries, including cannabis, with trade shows cancelled and bricks and mortar stores hit particularly hard during the depths of lockdown.

However, John believes businesses have been quick to respond and the shift to online purchasing means consumers have more options, forcing companies to step up their game.

He said: “Not only will consumers have access to an endless amount of products as well as hundreds of articles and reviews to research, but the competition within each industry will now push companies to provide better products at a fair price, faster than ever before; otherwise be left behind by the newly informed consumer.”
Several clinical studies are also ongoing in the States in order to inform new regulations for CBD brands.

Infinite is currently involved in research to measure the effects of CBD on the liver with prolonged daily consumption, the findings of which will help provide much-needed rules and reassurance for both companies and consumers.

“Many clinical studies are taking place right now to feed data back to the FDA so they can provide some more clear guidelines of use and marketability within the CBD industry,” added John.

“The rise in research can only stand to help the cannabis industry thrive.”

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