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Everything you need to know about medical cannabis



Plant doctor and cannabis expert, Dr Callie Seaman answers some of the common questions about medical cannabis and explains how pharmaceutical products differ from those found in the related wellness industry.

Earlier this year, Dr Callie Seaman, director of UK hydroponics company, Aqualabs, took a trip to Denmark to visit the licensed research and development medical cannabis cultivation facility, Cannabis Pharm.

Over the last couple of years she has been working with the facility to optimise their growing process and study the secondary metabolite production.

Dr Callie Seaman

After talking with many parents and patients Dr Seaman realised that many did not know how their medicines were produced.

At the end of last year the team at Aqualabs produced a film for Medical Cannabis Awareness Week to highlight the process of cannabis cultivation and extraction.

Here Dr Seaman answers some of the most common questions about medical cannabis and where it comes from.

What are Terpenoids, Flavonoids and Cannabinoids?

Terpenoids are a class of organic chemicals that include cannabinoids and terpenes. Terpenes are aromatic, volatile compounds that create the smell and flavour of plants but also have medicinal qualities. Cannabinoids are more widely known about secondary metabolite within cannabis. They include THC, CBD, CBN and many others. Phytocannabinoids are found within plants; they mimic endocannabinoids that are produced within the human body such as Anandamide and 2AG (2-Arachidonoyl Glycerol).

Can you eliminate THC from your medicine?

THC generates a fair amount of fear for many people, but the reality is it does have medicinal properties. It’s true that it’s what gets you high, inducing a euphoric feeling. But THC isn’t toxic, so you can’t overdose from it although it can produce a very overwhelming sensation. Many strains of cannabis have been bred to have higher levels of CBD and very low levels of THC. Similarly, THC can be removed through the various extraction processes.

Isolate vs full plant extract.

Maybe the easiest way to explain this is to look at the example of sugar. Sugar beets grow in the ground before being dug up and turned into molasses; a thick, brown solution that contains a mix of all the sugars that can be taken from a sugar beet. This is a ‘full plant extract’ of the sugar beet. Molasses can then be further refined into granulated sugar; the fine white powder we’re used to seeing in the supermarket. This is an isolate; a single compound of sucrose in an ultra-pure form.

In what forms are cannabis-based medicines (CBM) available?

CBM comes in many forms. ‘Flower’ and ‘floss’ are both names for the dried cannabis flower, which is prescribed across Europe and North America. This is generally used for pain relief and is smoked or vapourised. Quite often patients prefer a liquid or tablet which they’re more comfortable taking. This can come in the form of tinctures, balms, juicing solutions and concentrated cannabis oil. Similarly, CBM can be formulated into suppositories, cremes and topicals.

What’s the difference between cannabis from clinics and online or high-street CBD?

All cannabis can be medicinal, but there are diseases that require a high standard of product which is consistent and free from microbes. THC and CBN, being psychotropic, are Schedule 1 drugs that require a doctor’s prescription, so they aren’t available on the wellness market. CBD on the wellness market can often be a hemp oil, missing the breadth of compounds that can be found in pharmaceutical grade products.

What are the steps taken to keep products safe for consumption?

Aspergillus lives between the cells of a plant. Smoking the plant can introduce it into the lungs, potentially causing lung disease. Testing in a clinical setting can prevent it from getting into the system. E.coli, salmonella and other human pathogenic disease can live in soil, on surfaces and on our hands so the strict cleaning regimes practiced by pharmaceutical facilities help to ensure the cultivation process prevents the spread of these diseases. Other issues found in untested CMB that can be hazardous to human health include heavy metals, pesticides and residual solvents.

You can watch the full “Where does medical cannabis come from?” video on YouTube, recorded as part of Medical Cannabis Awareness Week 2020 for the PLEA Community.


Study finds ‘one in four’ started using CBD during COVID-19



Market research company High Yield Insights ran the survey

A new study has found that almost a quarter of CBD consumers in the US began using the cannabinoid during the coronavirus pandemic.  

Newly released findings from a study of over 35,000 adults in the US highlights the age and gender divide in Covid-19’s impact on mental health. 

According to the survey, almost seven in ten women have felt isolated from family and friends compared to just roughly half of men who have experienced the same. 

Almost four in ten women also report feeling more depressed than usual compared to fewer than three in ten men. Sleep issues have also arisen at greater rates (32 percent) for women than for men (22 percent). 

Gen Z and Millennials appear hardest hit by the economic fallout during the survey period. On average, one in four Gen Z and Millennial respondents reported having lost a job or taken a reduction to hours or pay. 

However, most of the spending cutbacks are driven by older consumers, with respondents aged 40 years and over making up 65 percent of those who report reduced household spending due to Covid-19.

Market research company High Yield Insights ran the survey from September to October 2020, collecting data from over 35,000 adults aged 21 and over. 

Respondents addressed how the pandemic has stirred mental health concerns, upended shopping habits, and sparked interest in new wellness products. 

The study also delved deep into the use and interest in CBD as a source of relief for health issues associated with or exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Our findings capture an image of what some are rightly calling the mental health epidemic in America,” said Mike Luce, president of High Yield Insights and a 20-year veteran in consumer insights and market research. 

“Consumers are thinking about wellness holistically today to encompass both mental and physical health. For product categories like CBD, which can address a range of conditions, the pandemic is having a historic knock-on effect. The growing popularity of CBD is evidenced by the number of people who started using one or more CBD products last year. For example, we discovered almost one in four US CBD consumers started using CBD in the six months leading up to our survey.”

UK retailers have also reported a rise in demand for CBD products since the start of the pandemic.

Newcastle based companies, Naturally North CBD and Karma Coast both told Cannabis Health that the vast majority of their customers are now using CBD to target anxiety and stress-related issues. 

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“This is not compassionate”: Ireland’s medical cannabis scheme ‘excludes thousands of patients’



Campaigners have said the scheme is not inclusive enough

Ireland’s government has finally announced funding for its Medical Cannabis Access Programme – but the scheme remains ‘extremely restrictive’, say campaigners.

Almost two years since the legislation was introduced on Thursday 21 January, Ireland’s Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced funding for the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme.

The programme is expected to commence later this year, with Donnelly claiming it will allow for “compassionate access” to cannabis medicines.

But campaigners have been quick to criticise the scheme, which only offers access to four low dose cannabis-based medicines to people living with one of three qualifying conditions.

These include intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, severe treatment-resistant epilepsy and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). 

But despite all of the patients who are currently being prescribed cannabis under a ministerial license, using Bedrocan products from the Transvaal pharmacy in the Hague, none of these have been approved for the programme.

This suggests children – including 11-year-old Ava Barry – who have had their quality of life significantly improved by Bedrocan oils, will have to switch products in order to have their prescriptions reimbursed.

Ava Barry is prescribed Bedrocan oils for severe epilepsy

As has been highlighted extensively by campaigners in the UK in recent weeks, in regard to the issues importing Bedrocan due to Brexit, changing treatments for epilepsy can lead to a worsening of seizures and could be life-threatening. 

Alicia Maher is a patient and advocate who moved to Spain in 2019 in order to have better access to cannabis medicines, which she uses to manage chronic pain.

While she welcomed the news that the programme would finally be funded, she will still not be able to return to her hometown of Limerick.

“Many people have asked me whether this will impact me and whether I will be able to come home, but sadly the answer is no,” she said.

“Chronic pain is not one of the qualifying conditions, despite the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) acknowledging in their 2017 report that it is the most researched indication for cannabinoids, with the majority of reports concluding that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain.”

According to Alicia, recent reports suggest that approximately 25 percent of the population suffer from chronic pain, with the condition affecting over 1.5 million people.

She was granted a ministerial licence to be legally prescribed medical cannabis last year, but would have to fund the costs of the prescription herself.

She continued: “I, along with many others that currently hold the ministerial licence and fall outside the three qualifying conditions, will not be allowed onto the access programme, even though our doctors are currently prescribing cannabis. 

“We won’t have access to any of the cannabis products that have been approved and we won’t have our costs reimbursed. 

Alicia added: “It is fiscally irresponsible as the cost of my cannabis prescription is less than my prescription was for 30 opioids per day, yet they were completely covered on my medical card.”

Campaign group, Cork Cannabis Activist Network said excluding patients from accessing these medicines is in no way “compassionate” or “acceptable”.

“The headlines are designed to paint a rosy picture favouring those in government, but this is not the truth, and most certainly for not the countless Irish citizens who consume cannabis daily for various medical reasons,” Nicole Lonergan spokesperson for the group, told Cannabis Health.

“Cannabis is complex and so are patients and their individual physiological needs. Yet the Irish government thinks it’s acceptable to offer limited access to four cannabis-based medicines and restrict access to three qualifying conditions.”

Nicole is among those who want to see cannabis legalised in Ireland, with thousands of patients still forced to access medication illegally.

The group has called for an education programme to improve understanding of the medicinal benefits of cannabis among healthcare professionals.

“Week after week, I receive hundreds of messages from people of all ages and backgrounds crying out for cannabis to be legalised,” she said.

“A comprehensive cannabis education programme needs to be urgently rolled out to GP’s and consultants in Ireland and the law needs to be changed so that no one is forced to continue relying on the illegal market for their medicine.”

Nicole added: “It is not ‘compassionate’ to exclude certain patients from accessing cannabis medicines, or to offer an extremely limited selection of products that do not suit the majority of patients’ needs. It is not ‘compassionate’ to condemn patients to rely on an illegal market or force patients to leave their homes and families to access cannabis legally.

“We deserve answers as to why the Irish government continues to uphold a law that ruins lives and prevents access to legitimate, effective medicine in all its forms.”

Announcing the provision of funding and delivery of the Medical Cannabis Access Programme, Minister Donnelly said:  “The purpose of this Programme is to facilitate compassionate access to cannabis for medical reasons, where conventional treatment has failed. It follows the clear pathway laid out by the Health Products Regulatory Authority in their expert report ‘Cannabis for Medical Use – A Scientific Review’. 

“Ultimately it will be the decision of the medical consultant, in consultation with their patient, to prescribe a particular treatment, including a cannabis-based treatment, for a patient under their care. 

“It is important to state that there are no plans to legalise cannabis in this country.”

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Vitality CBD ‘leading the way’ with novel food application



CBD firms have until the end of March to submit their novel food applications

A UK CBD firm believes it is one of the first to submit its novel food application ahead of the March deadline. 

Birmingham-based Vitality CBD confirmed it has submitted its novel food dossier for Food Standards Authority (FSA) approval.

The brand is widely distributed in UK high street retailers, stocked in the likes of Tesco, Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy, Sainsburys, Ocado and is listed on Amazon UK as part of its global trial of CBD.

In tandem with its raw material supplier, the company has submitted its Novel Food application for validation of its wide range of ingestible CBD products, assuring customers that it is ‘leading the way’ in helping to create a more regulated industry.

CBD products can remain on the shelves providing an existing CBD brand, which is defined as “on the market” prior to 13 February 2020, receives validation of its application before the 31 March deadline. 

In the meantime, no new brands are permitted to launch in the UK until they have completed their Novel Food application and received full Novel Foods authorisation.

Vitality, which recently expanded and sources its CBD from Colorado in the US, supports the FSA’s move to better define the responsibilities of CBD retailers towards customers. 

The company believes the new novel food guidance will end a ‘period of uncertainty’ and move the industry toward clearer and more concise regulation, ensuring consumers are provided with safer and higher quality CBD.

It expects the move will help to ‘legitimise its venture; and lead to greater consumer confidence in CBD.

Phillip Glyn, commercial director, commented: “It is important for our trade customers and consumers alike, to know that Vitality CBD, together with our raw ingredient provider, are one of the first in the UK CBD industry to submit a Novel Food dossier, and are therefore leading the way in future compliance and regulation.”

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