Is 2021 the year the country finally embraces the cannabis sector? Cannabis Health reporter Joe Roberts speaks to some of the UK’s leading cannabis experts to hear their thoughts and predictions for the year ahead.
2020 was a year of uncertainty, but also opportunity for the cannabis sector.
Global demand for cannabis has surged and as mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression become increasingly prevalent during the pandemic, many are realising the potential for cannabis-based products to help tackle these issues.
Despite the discovery and clinical approval of Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, 2021 remains uncertain for the cannabis sector.
“It’s difficult to predict what 2021 will hold for medical cannabis because of the coronavirus pandemic,” medical cannabis campaigner, Hannah Deacon, told Cannabis Health.
“At the moment, it does feel a little bit hostile. The government seems to not be focusing on anything domestically, other than Coronavirus. So that means that the brakes have been put on when it comes to the issuing of licenses to farmers who wish to grow, and that’s really worrying.
“I just hope that the 2021 brings it into focus for them; that they really need to embrace the cannabis sector.”
Deacon’s son, Alfie Dingley was the first patient in the UK to receive a permanent licence for medical cannabis and is one of only three children in the country to receive the treatment through the NHS.
Restrictive clinical guidelines and high costs are two of the main barriers that prevent individuals and families from accessing medical cannabis. For the vast majority, an NHS prescription is out of the question. For these people, the only option is private medical care or turning to the black market.
Deacon spoke about a family who last month sent her a copy of a receipt for a £2,400 bill for cannabis-based medication for their child.
Although efforts are being made to bring these prices down with affordable payment plans being rolled out by the likes of Sapphire Medical Clinic and Project Twenty21, monthly costs are still beyond most patients’ budgets.
“These families wouldn’t be trying to find this money every month if it wasn’t helping their children. Something needs to be done urgently to improve access on the NHS,” said Deacon.
“It’s just unacceptable to place that financial burden on a family who is already struggling for services because they have a child with a disability. Many of these services have been cut due to austerity in the last 10 years, and due to COVID, they are not getting the respite and the support that they need.
“They also have to fight to keep their children safe and keep them out of hospital.”
At present, only doctors on the specialist register of the General Medical Council (GMC), also known as consultants, are permitted to prescribe cannabis-based medical products.
Professor Mike Barnes, chair of the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society (MCCS), says he would like to see GPs prescribing by the end of 2021, arguing that many of the conditions that can be treated by cannabis are within the remit of GPs, such as anxiety, sleep issues, appetite and mild to severe moderate pain.
Deacon who co-founded MCCS with Prof Barnes, agrees that prescribing cannabis is the role of a GP and argues that consultants don’t have the time to write prescriptions and regularly follow up with patients.
“Hopefully GPs will be given the right to prescribe this year, or at least as soon as possible,” she said.
“If that happens, I think it will open up access very quickly because I know there are a lot of GPs who are very supportive of access to medical cannabis.
“They have seen the change in people who are using it illicitly, but this is dangerous. We shouldn’t be criminalising sick people. It’s disgraceful.”
Despite the challenges ahead, Prof Barnes is optimistic for the coming year and predicts that the NHS will be prescribing cannabis-based medicines by the end of 2021.
Peter Reynolds, President of CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform, is less hopeful.
“I think the senior clinicians and bureaucrats at NHS and NICE will continue to do all they can to block access,” he said.
“They will continue to insist that [clinical trials] are the only form of evidence that they will accept, and they will continue to ignore and reject all evidence from overseas.”
According to Prof Barnes the number of published research papers has approximately doubled since 2016 and he predicts that in 2021 there will be a similar number of papers published, if not more.
“When I wrote the 2016 report for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy, there were 20,000 references for the clinical use of cannabis; there’s now 40,000,” Barnes said.
“That’s not surprising. In fifty countries cannabis is now legal in various shapes and sizes so you can more readily do that research now.
“Every week there’s papers coming out about cannabis – the dosage and the format to take it and indications for it. It’s here to stay.”
Despite his lack of faith in the country’s political leaders, Reynolds is confident that 2021 will be the year that cannabis is finally decriminalised.
“Our political leaders will be too scared of the tabloid media to do anything,” he said.
“Meanwhile, the criminal trade will continue to drive county lines, knife crime, prostitution, modern slavery, all off the back of profits from the cannabis trade but Boris Johnson will refuse to understand this or follow the evidence that legal regulation is the solution.”
Hannah Deacon echoes Reynolds’ concerns with the government’s approach to medical cannabis, arguing that its resistance to cannabis legalisation stems from its fear of recreational use.
“I’ve met Matt Hancock a few times,” Deacon said. “I met him in February, and he said to me that he’ll leave no stone unturned to sort out access for children, but I’m afraid he hasn’t.
“Although he can’t intervene with NICE, he can show leadership on it, but unfortunately, I don’t think he has demonstrated leadership.”
For Deacon, 2021 is an opportunity for the UK to establish itself as a global leader in the cannabis sector, but only if the UK government “allows it to happen”.
“It’s really, really important that we create a robust UK sector starting now,” she said.
“We have expertise in this country that other countries don’t have.
“We’re already seeing the emergence of the infrastructure for the sector, but there’s a lot of work still to be done on ensuring that we have good supply for people.
“There’s also a lot of potential to create jobs and the potential to create tax. I think that’s what the government should really be focusing on in the new year coming because we’re going to need it. We’re going to need to rebuild our economy.”
Last year, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced that all businesses selling CBD products on the UK market must apply for authorisation of each of their products by 31 March 2021.
Stephen Oliver, co-founder of the London-based consultancy dedicated to the cannabinoid sector, Canna Consultants, anticipates that enforcement of this will commence from April 2021 onwards with the intent to ‘rid’ the market of products which have not achieved Novel Food Validation by the FSA.
Oliver expects that this will lead to a reduction in the range of products available to consumers, but believes it will also offer greater protection for those who buy and consume CBD products.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has resumed its review of CBD Novel Food applications since ruling that CBD cannot be deemed a narcotic.
Up until the Kanavape court case closed on the 19th November 2020, CBD products extracted from hemp flower had been classed as a narcotic drug. Now, free movement of CBD products between EU member states can no longer be prevented on these grounds.
Oliver questions how long the assessment of Novel Food applications will take and speculates that the European market may begin to fall behind.
“It is likely that Europe will continue to be off limits for companies unwilling to breach the Novel Food laws for at least the next two years,” Oliver said.
“This will cause the market in Member States to lag further and further behind the UK and the rest of the world.
“By the time that CBD is permitted to lawfully sit on European shelves as a ‘new’ offering, it will have been normalised in all of Europe’s significant competitor jurisdictions.”
Stephen Murphy, co-founder and managing director of Prohibition Partners also believes the UK cannabis industry has an opportunity to make a “head start” against its European competitors.
He added: “Despite the considerable uncertainties which will arise from the new trade relations with Europe, the UK also has an opportunity to develop its own line on the regulation of cannabis and CBD.
“This advantage gives the UK the time to develop a strong cannabinoid market with potential world-leading companies.”
Do we really need CBD hand sanitiser?
A new antibacterial CBD and CBG infused hand sanitiser has launched on the US market – but can cannabinoids really help protect you from infection?
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic hand sanitiser has become everyone’s must-have accessory.
During one week in February 2020, sales of hand gel in US pharmacies increased by more than 80 percent on the same period the previous year and the global hand sanitiser market is projected to grow significantly to reach $17.2 Billion by 2026.
Now US skin and personal care company Naturaholic has announced it is expanding into CBD – it’s first product? Hand sanitiser infused with CBD and CBG.
Nahid LaCiura, the founder and lead product director of Naturaholic announced earlier this year that the company would put focus on adding different cannabinoids into their already successful natural product line.
“Early 2020, as our research into a new CBD skincare line began, Covid-19 struck which turned the company’s attention into a totally different direction in order to fill in the void in the marketplace and keep our community safe,” said Nahid.
“It only made sense for us to turn our focus to offering a hand sanitizer that would be strong and efficient enough yet gentle and moisturising.
“Also since we are an online company we could reach many people around the country in need of this high-demand product.”
Why use a CBD and CBG hand sanitiser?
A Journal of Natural Products research article published in 2008 by the American Chemical Society reported that cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG), two of the most abundant cannabinoids found in hemp, “showed potent activity against a variety of MRSA strains in mice.”
Nahid added: “For those that don’t know, MRSA is the antibiotic resistant “superbug” that haunts the halls of many hospitals and healthcare facilities.
“The infection caused by MRSA is very difficult to treat because of its resistance to most antibiotics.”
This issue has enormous clinical implications since MRSA is spreading throughout the world. In the United States MRSA accounts for killing nearly 19,000 Americans every year — more than the nation’s annual number of AIDS deaths (which is around 13,000).
“Although the use of cannabinoids as systemic antibacterial agents are still lacking rigorous clinical trials, they are well-suited antibiotic and sanitizing agents when applied topically, particularly against gram-positive pathogens including MRSA,” continued Nahid.
“For a hand sanitizer to have such a property, this could help many people through this hard time. The science behind this is CGB’s ability to stop the growth of biofilms by destroying the cell membrane of the microorganisms architecture, while also halting the growth of any new biofilms as well. The Paper published by McMaster University in Canada is a very interesting read if you’re into the science behind it.
“As it stands now, though it’s only been a few months, the CBD+CBG hand sanitizer is outselling most of our other products.
“Of course, the Hyaluronic Acid and Skin Tightening Oil are still on top, but we can’t discount the amazing performance the hand sanitizer is having.”
The CBD+CBG hand sanitizer is available in 4 oz at a 1:1 ratio of CBD to CBG with 200mg potency.
The formula uses ethanol alcohol at over a 60 percent potency in a gel formula with added Vitamin E and cannabinoids. This product is FDA registered and comes complete with 3rd party lab testing and COA (Certificate of Analysis) to guarantee potency.
Naturaholic is an artisanal line of skin and personal care products handcrafted in small batches using high quality organic ingredients.
“I’ve been given so many labels, but CBD made me feel normal again”
Founder of the cannabidiol brand, Euphoria CBD, talks to Cannabis Health about how CBD has helped him turn his life around and move on from the trauma of his childhood.
23-year-old Matthew Cobb says he has seen “way too much” for someone his age.
At the age of 12, Matthew was taken into the care system, suffering from serious mental health issues stemming from traumatic events in his early youth.
Throughout the course of his childhood, he was diagnosed with PTSD, autism spectrum disorder, multiple personality disorder and bipolar and was given medication in an effort to treat his mental health.
“I took medication from a very young age,” Matthew says over the phone.
“I suppose a lot of it at the time was my mum trying to find a reason as to why my behaviour was the way it was.”
His doctors prescribed him medications such as Ritalin, Concerta XL, sertraline and olanzapine to cope but none of them worked for him and the side effects were, at times, crippling.
“Prescribed medication was very prominent in my childhood. They didn’t really do anything for me but I was forced to take them every day,” he says.
“There was not one [medication] that I could take and feel myself. Some of them made me angry, some of them absolutely tore me apart and made me borderline suicidal.”
Eventually, the side effects became too much, and Matthew decided to stop taking prescription medication at 15-years-old.
Having first encountered cannabis at the age of 13, he began to solely rely on “medicating” through the drug. In his late teenage years, Matthew says he would often consume upwards of £70 worth of cannabis in one day.
“It was the only thing that gave me some sense of normality at the time. The fact that ‘stoned’ was the closest to normality that I could get at 17-years-old was a problem,” he says.
At the age of 18, Matthew stumbled across CBD for the first time in a local convenience store where he saw a pack of CBD flower for sale.
“I saw this thing that ultimately looked like cannabis. I’d never heard of CBD before,” he recalls.
He bought the 0.5 g pack and went to the local park to roll a ‘CBD joint’ and was astounded by the effects.
“It was just a feeling of constant relaxation. I didn’t feel paranoid. I didn’t feel like anyone was judging me,” he says.
Later, Matthew began to experience more profound benefits as his consumption of CBD began to positively impact his mental health.
“I started to notice that my depression was easing off and I was starting to feel better in myself,” he continues.
“It was completely different to smoking cannabis. I wasn’t getting high anymore, but I was sleeping again and I was eating properly. My head didn’t feel so up in the air, I didn’t feel manic.”
For Matthew, smoking cannabis was never about getting high. He just wanted to feel “normal”, and cannabis was the only substance he could find that got him close to that feeling.
“I had a lot of issues that I didn’t understand, a lot of issues that didn’t make sense,” he says.
“I was heading in a massive downward spiral and [cannabis] was the only thing that took the edge off.
“It was about making me feel some sense of normality. I got that with CBD, so it almost made cannabis null and void.”
With a renewed clarity of mind, Matthew realised that he had to make a change in his life.
“In two years, you’re going to be in prison or you’re going to be dead,” he thought.
Matthew says he hasn’t picked up a cannabis joint since the first time he tried CBD and from that moment, he was himself for the first time in his life. He no longer recognises in himself the mental health issues that he was diagnosed with as a child.
“My view is I don’t have any mental health issues,” he says.
“I was given many different labels, but they would change week to week; ADHD, bipolar disorder, personality disorder this, personality disorder that, depression.
“I had had a label for everything, but my life now is pretty normal.
“CBD has taken those labels away. It has given me something that no medication could; it’s given me – me.”
Having experienced first-hand the benefits of CBD, Matthew launched his own brand, Euphoria CBD, in July 2020.
It is set to launch a range of new products throughout 2021, including e-liquids, soap bars, bath bombs, moisturiser creams.
Frustrated with the lofty costs of CBD products, he set out to make high-quality cannabidiol affordable. Recalling a time in his life where he was struggling to make ends meet and pay for the supplement that had such a huge impact on his life, Matthew aims to make CBD accessible to everyone, regardless of their income.
“CBD is something that comes with benefits for so many different people, but the problem is that people don’t realise how much poverty there actually is in this country,” he adds.
“People can’t afford this kind of product, it’s just not possible. My goal is to provide an affordable product that genuinely helps people.”
Five tips for coping with life after lockdown
As much as many of us can’t wait for life to return to normal, after over year of living with some form of restrictions, it’s normal to be feeling a little bit anxious about life after lockdown.
From March 8 onwards, the UK will start to slowly emerge from lockdown, with schools opening first, followed by non-essential shops and leisure facilities over the coming months.
And while there are things about the return to ‘normal’ that we will all be looking forward to, it’s not unusual to be feeling a little apprehensive, or even anxious, about re-entering society.
Luckily, there are a number of ways you can manage your anxiety – and the sooner you start, the more effective it will be.
Take it slowly
If you’re feeling worried, it’s probably best not to book tickets for a festival or a round-the-world cruise. Instead, aim to maybe meet up with one person at a time, or have a coffee at an outside café. Whatever you choose, it’s best to do something, as the longer you leave it, the worse your anxiety will be.
Keep in touch
While Zoom and text fatigue have definitely set in after 12 months of lockdowns and distancing, now is the time to rekindle some of those connections.
Even if you don’t meet up in person just yet, it can be good to chat through your anxiety with a friend – chances are, they’ll know exactly how you’re feeling.
Try something new
Try to vary your routine so you see different people and situations until you find what you’re comfortable with. Maybe your usual walking route is very busy in the mornings; now the nights are getting lighter, try going out in the early evening.
Trying something different can also break any negative connections you may associate with lockdown; if your local streets were as far as you travelled during lockdown, a walk around a different neighbourhood gives your brain a clear signal that something has changed.
Have a plan
While you can’t control everything, you do have power over some aspects of returning to a more normal life. If you’re feeling worried or anxious about going out, make yourself an action plan of how you’re going to handle it – and how you’ll respond to anything unexpected.
A little extra help
CBD is well known for its calming effects, and many people use it to relieve symptoms of anxiety. Although more research is needed to understand the science behind using CBD as a treatment for anxiety, plenty of people anecdotally report a positive impact on their symptoms. A 2019 Gallup Poll discovered that 37 percent of CBD users take the supplement for anxiety.
CBD is thought to work by changing serotonin signals in the body through the interaction with CB1, a receptor found in the central nervous system.
Low serotonin levels are generally linked with depression, however there is also evidence that it could be a cause of anxiety.
In another study from 2019, researchers gave 300mg of CBD (or a placebo) to 37 Japanese teenagers suffering from social anxiety.
The results found that the group who received CBD experienced a significant reduction in their symptoms and concluded that “the results indicate that CBD could be a useful option to treat social anxiety.”
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- “I’ve been given so many labels, but CBD made me feel normal again”
- Five tips for coping with life after lockdown
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- Safe, certified and high-power CBD vaping formula’s hit the shelves
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