Cannabis Health speaks to Kiran Sidhu, CEO of Halo Labs, about the African cannabis sector, the impact of COVID-19 and his predictions for 2021.
According to BDS Analytics, the data partner for the US National Cannabis Industry Association, Halo is the top company in the state of Oregon for sales of cannabis flower, number three for concentrates and pre-rolls.
The growing company has expanded to the UK (with the acquisition of CanMart) and Lesotho, a small country located just south of Johannesburg. Lesotho is the first African country to legalise the cultivation and manufacturing of medical cannabis and one of the world’s most sought-after locations for cannabis production.
Halo’s cultivation site in Lesotho is operated by Bophelo Bioscience, a holder of one of a limited number of licences issued in the country.
Following a series of high-value acquisitions – including the UK’s CanMart and Oregon-based company, Winberry Farms – the company has experienced a rapid growth in sales in 2020. This week, the company reported a 32 percent year over year growth in the state of Oregon, with retail sales reaching $89.9 million in November 2020.
Sidhu tells us about the origins of Halo Labs, the company’s expansion to the UK and its growing operations in the African cannabis sector.
CH: Tell us about the origins of Halo Labs and your journey as a company.
KS: Halo labs started in 2017 in Andreas Met’s [co-founder of Halo] chicken coop. At the time, we were known in the industry as blasters, so effectively we took raw cannabis, put them in butane and then through that process we made vaporiser cartridges.
Now we span four countries, the UK, Lesotho, the United States and soon Canada. We make about 10 products in the state of Oregon and we’re growing in California – we’re working on building a very large cultivation site, which is the largest in Northern California.
In Lesotho, Louisa [Mojela], our chairperson, founded Bophelo Bioscience, which is arguably one of the largest grows in the world in terms of licensed space.
I view Halo, in a strange way, as two distinct businesses. It’s one that is North American, which is much more recreationally focused and it’s one that is outside North America, which is what we call a seed to sale distribution system, from Lesotho to Malta and then from Malta onward into the UK.
CH: What are some of the main challenges of working in the cannabis sector?
KS: A lot of people look at cannabis as this sexy business, like something technological. But really, at the end of the day, cannabis is a bricks and mortars, manufacturing, cultivation business.
It’s extremely working capital intensive without the ability, at least in the US, to access bank lines because banking isn’t available to us.
In a strange way, we work in the shadows, even though we have a legal business. There’s a lot of cash movement as you’re not allowed to use credit cards in the United States. Mainstream banking, like Santander or Barclays isn’t available to us so we tend to work with local credit unions. Even if we move money across state lines, that’s a violation of federal law.
CH: Why is Lesotho such a hotbed for cannabis manufacturing?
KS: Our roots as a company in the United States are in the Emerald triangle, an area north of Napa Valley, to the south of Grants Pass in Oregon and up and down the spine of what’s known as the 101 Highway.
This is where 90 percent of all cannabis in North America was supplied prior to legalisation. What the Carolinas are to tobacco and the Great Plains are to wheat, the Emerald Triangle is to cannabis
Lesotho, which is the Emerald triangle of Africa, has always been the place where cannabis has flourished. It has always been the breadbasket of cannabis in Africa.
A couple of years ago, the deputy prime minister [of Lesotho] said that when they were fighting apartheid, they said, ‘give us our land, our freedom and our cannabis’; that was their cry.
And they were one of the first states in Africa to INCB [International Narcotics Control Board] certification for exportation of cannabis. A lot of large companies piled in after that. I remember the valuations were preposterous and it became very hot.
CH: What drew you to Lesotho and working with Bophela Bioscience?
KS: We have a gorgeous site and arguably one of the largest sites in the country, but what really attracted us to Lesotho was our chairperson, Louisa Mojela, who’s such a force for social good.
10 percent of our profits are going to the local people, the land is owned by a trust for the benefit of the people, and Louisa is really big on the empowerment of the disadvantaged. She also operates her own private equity fund, which is for the empowerment of women in Africa.
Louisa and my partner Andreas Met are really driving the charge in Africa.
The concept is to uses good agricultural collection practices to produce cannabis and then take that cannabis and export it into Malta and inevitably the UK.
CH: Would you consider expanding into other regions in Africa?
KS: Our mantra is do one site, do it well, and don’t diversify. But that being said, given the geography of Lesotho [a mountainous region ideal for growing the Indica cannabis plant], you could see yourself looking towards Ghana or Gambia; somewhere more equatorial where you would put up a grow with a genetic bank dominated more by sativa.
I think that’s more of a longer-term view, because you can still grow a good genetic bank in Lesotho.
I’m hearing that Ghana now is legalising, the Congo is legalising, but they have a way to go to get INCB certification which takes a couple of years.
CH: Have you faced any barriers in Africa due to the pandemic?
KS: We are growing and storing cannabis in Africa and we are getting what’s known as Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (GACP) certification. We’re fairly close to it, but COVID has been a little bit of a setback as the whole South African region is under a very stringent lockdown given this new variant that’s floating around.
And the UK, where a lot of our people are based, is also locked down due to COVID. It’s become really difficult. Right now, what we’re dealing with is even though we’re growing, we’re dealing with practical problems.
For instance, there’s not enough steel in South Africa. South Africa typically would import steel but those imports are not as plentiful as usual. We are not able to complete our certifications because of practical issues like this.
CH: How about in the US and Europe?
KS: We’re starting to see tremendous growth in cannabis in the US as a result of COVID, whereas abroad, it’s disrupted supply chains.
Where COVID has been a boom in the United States, it’s been a curse in the UK and has now been derailed to some degree. But I think inevitably, as we all get our jabs, and everything settles down over the next nine months, I think we’re going to start seeing an incredible flourish of international trade in cannabis.
I could envision the Biden regime entering international cannabis trade, too. It’s conceivable within the next two years that you’ll start to see cannabis flowing from Africa into the United States.
CH: What is your view of the UK cannabis market?
KS: We’re one of five licensed medical distributors and the name of our company in the UK is Canmart, which started its journey about two years ago.
One thing that’s interesting about the UK market is that it has a very active black market with high per capita consumption rate of cannabis; one of the highest in the world.
It [the UK] is sort of like California before legalisation, during what we call the ‘medical days’. The UK is starting the medical days right now.
What’s happening is you’re starting to see liberalisation, even under this Conservative government, of medicinal cannabis. The tipping point will come when the NHS starts allowing certain groups to be reimbursed for cannabis. That to me is the point where it’ll become medically available for many different people.
CH: What are Halo Labs’ plans for the UK?
KS: Under the current regime, cannabis in the UK has to be imported, so the goal is to get the Lesotho operation qualified for imports into the UK.
The UK is allowing cannabis to come in from abroad, but that cannabis has to have a certification of cGMP (current good manufacturing practices) which is a medicinal certification. We have a partner in Malta – we import GACP cannabis into Malta and there they make it into Medicinal Products for EU certification, which is then imported into the UK.
It will be interesting to see what happens now with the UK’s separation from the EU.
CH: What trends can you see on the horizon?
KS: Outside North America is where it’s hot right now in terms of cannabis. Brazil is now liberalising, Colombia, Uruguay and Mexico has liberalised and on the African continent, multiple countries are starting to liberalise.
I think you’re going to start to see this flourish of international trade in cannabis.
I also think we’re going to start to seeing more countries develop recreational regimes, and I think it’s going to come faster than people anticipate.
Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, in her debate with Pence said that one of their initiatives is going to be the descheduling of cannabis so it’s no longer considered a controlled substance.
I could even see the UK’s Conservative government following a US lead over the next year or two. I see the softening of his [Boris Johnson’s] position, so I can see this liberalisation really starting to snowball.
The alcohol industry is seeing diminished growth as a result of the cannabis industry’s growth.
The Sisters of CBD giving away free hemp seeds in the US
The Sisters of the Valley have become renowned for growing organic high-CBD hemp plants.
Self-formed order and CBD producers, Sisters of Valley, are giving away 1,000 free packets of hemp seeds to customers in California.
Known in the media as ‘weed nuns’ or the ‘sisters who make CBD’, Sisters of the Valley is a self-formed new age order of women based in the Central Valley of California, USA.
The women have become renowned for growing organic high-CBD hemp plants and producing homemade infused CBD oil which they ship across the world.
Now, to celebrate the arrival of spring, the sisters are giving away souvenir hemp seed packets, to 1,000 US customers who have shopped in their recently-launched online store.
They hope to start send 500 packets in February, followed by another 500 in March.
Those customers will receive a thank card, along with their packet of seeds.
Sister Kate said: “Worried about Covid, economic collapse, global warming, supply chain issues, un-compassionate governments? So are we! Learn to grow your own food and medicine. It’s healing in itself just to be doing something.”
The seeds will be primarily distributed to American customers.
Sister Sophia, explained: “We aren’t shipping internationally because, firstly, there won’t be a lot of them since our international sales have fallen from 20 per cent to three per cent during Covid. And secondly, we don’t want to get anyone in trouble. We will reach out to those international customers and see if they want us to mail them before we
Sisters of Valley Community
The sisters describe themselves as ‘beguine revivalists with influences from the Indigenous Tribes of California’. They also live, work and pray together. While they refer to themselves as order and are called sisters, the group is not affiliated with the Catholic church or any other religion.
Their mission is to get plant-based medicines to those in need. The order work on their own farm to produce high-CBD hemp products including balms and oils.
In 2019 Breaking Habits, a documentary film about Sister Kate was released. It received an award at the London Cannabis Film Festival.
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New global platform offers affordable cannabis education
New online courses are set to offer low-cost, reliable, cannabis education.
A new online education platform is set to tackle stigma around cannabis and open up opportunities for learners across the globe.
Canadian education platform, Edusity, has partnered with the Pharmacology University of Texas-based CHNC, to help learners assess the risks, benefits and business opportunities that come with cannabis legalisation.
Cannabis may be a legal product in Canada, but there are still barriers to learning about the plant, according to Edusity’s founders.
The online education platform enables instructors to post self-directed, video-based courses and to teach live webinars via its virtual classroom. Pharmacology University is another online educational platform which aims to transform the social stigma around medicinal cannabis.
“Education really is the best tool for addressing every area of social change,” said Vishal Shah, co-founder of Edusity.
“In the past, there have been difficulties communicating about legal cannabis education, but with the use of age gate technology and other safeguards, Edusity is helping to create a culture of cannabis literacy that is essential to building a stable, safe industry.”
There are currently 12 low-cost courses from Pharmacology University’s programme available on Edusity.com ranging from cannabis and obesity to cannabis dispensary operations.
Anne Graham, CEO of Pharmacology University, commented: “Pharmacology University is pleased to partner with Edusity on the delivery of our program. As the legalisation of cannabis spreads around the world, there is a need for clear, honest and expertise-driven education about the herb itself, the medical science, the legislation and the business that moves it. We are pleased to have Edusity work with us to make Cannabis education happen.”
71% of CBD consumers see improvement in wellbeing
3,000 people took part in the ‘first of its kind’ study
Results from what is thought to be the largest study to date, show over 70 per cent of CBD consumers saw improvements to their wellbeing.
The study, carried out by Radicle Science, involved over 3,000 participants who were given CBD products to try at home.
The organisation’s Advancing CBD Education and Science (ACES) report, aimed to determine the effectiveness of botanical CBD products.
The randomised controlled trial involved 13 US brands and examined different reasons for taking CBD. This included wellbeing, quality of life, pain, anxiety and sleep quality.
The results revealed that 71 per cent of participants saw an improvement in well-being, with 63 per cent seeing a ‘clinically meaningful improvement in anxiety. A further 61 per cent reported an improvement in sleep quality while 47 per cent said their pain levels were decreased.
Sixty one per cent of participants reported feeling the effects of the CBD within one to four hours of consuming their chosen products.
Speaking with Cannabis Health, Jeff Chen, CEO and co-founder said: “There are studies of American consumers showing that millions are using CBD yet despite that, we still don’t know a lot about it. One of the key reasons is that it was lumped together with cannabis for the longest time so if you wanted to study these products then it was near impossible. What little understanding we have comes mainly from cell and animal studies which shows some amazing things.”
He added: “When we talk about human studies of CBD then there is so little data. The main reasons people are using it is for pain, sleep, stress and anxiety. So our job, as Radicle Science was to generate a body of knowledge and understanding to help consumers.”
The result was a ‘first of its kind’ study providing real-world data on CBD use.
It examined how people used CBD in their own homes rather than a medical setting, how much they use and also what side effects they experienced. To do this, the researchers gathered a diverse pool of participants and paired them with different brands. As the products were mailed to consumers, the study wasn’t limited to those who live near a laboratory and as a result, 3,000 people took part.
Jeff said: “We wanted to involve a variety of different brands with a variety of formulations but we also wanted a diverse pool of participants. This included people from different geographies, ethnicities and demographics to make this as ‘real world’ as possible. We mailed the products to people to take in their own home.”
The success of the CBD was measured with different scientific scales. These findings were assessed through five indices: the World Health Organization (WHO)-5 Well Being Index, the Kemp QOL scale, the Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)-7 scale, the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS™) Sleep Disturbance SF 8B scale, and the PEG-3 Scale for pain.
Jeff said: “When we were assessing the outcomes, we used measures that were developed by the World Health Organisation or the US National Institue of Health for sleep or pain. We collected all of these validated survey instruments along with tonnes of information on demographics, behaviour and health conditions. we want to understand if there are any variables, whether ethnicity or caffeine consumption may affect usage.”
He added: “As we were working with the brands, we knew exactly what products they were taking and what was in them. Our study made calculating the dosage really easy too, which can be really difficult for consumers. We had participants report how many servings they were using whether that is a gummy or a capsule. The bottle is very clear about what each serving is. We have the chemical analytic results, we can back-calculate the dosage to give us a normalised dosage data.”
Radicle Science report results
The study reported significant improvements in the three main areas people reported using CBD for, such as pain, sleep and anxiety.
Jeff said: “We found that depending on what health outcome you are looking at, 47 to 63 per cent of people experienced not just an improvement but a clinically meaningful one. This means that they are experiencing changes to sleep quality or anxiety that is large enough to make a healthcare provider say it is meaningful. It’s strong enough that it deserves to be further utilised.
Another interesting result was that a majority of people reported the impact within several hours of taking the product. We are still trying to figure out the mechanism of action for CBD. It appears that one of the mechanisms seems to be affecting the serotonin system. If you look at things like SSRIs that are prescribed for anxiety, then they can take several weeks to kick in. What we saw was the onset of effects from CBD happening within several hours.”
Jeff highlighted that the study also examined the participant’s quality of life and wellbeing, which may have seen an improvement due to decreased anxiety and sleep problems. The next phase will examine more of the data points from the study.
He said: “We will be doing a lot more sophisticated biostatistics. The next stage will examine the role that demographic or behavioural characteristics may have played or if they had predictive effects on the outcomes. For example, is the use of caffeine or alcohol made you more or less likely to experience an effect. Did ethnicity mean you were more likely to experience a positive outcome?
“We will look at the different product attributes for the 13 brands to see if a gummy had an advantage over a tincture for example. There is still a lot to be determined that will come in the next wave of analysis.”
Prospect Farms entered some of its products into the ACES study.
Speaking with Cannabis Health, CEO Brad Tipper explained how beneficial the study has been for the brand.
“Our focus has been creating terpene-forward products,” said Brad.
“It makes Prospect Farms products unique in the market compared to a lot of our peers. Our balance products which were included in the ACES study are great for mood and cognition. This was a great opportunity for us to be able to differentiate our view of the market right now. We wanted to be able to show the difference in using quality carriers or terpene blends for health outcomes.”
He added: “One of the biggest areas we hoped Radicle Science would shine a light on is consumer behaviour around dosing. Tinctures are still a very unique concept for the broader audience. We are used to taking a supplement or an over the counter product but we are not used to holding something on our tongues for 30 seconds. Thinking about pipettes and graduated marks can be an intimidating concept.”
CBD report and product changes
Brad highlighted that the insights into dosing have been incredibly valuable for the brand. They have been able to take this into consideration when it comes to their products.
He said: “It has informed a lot of our product development considerations. We are restricted in terms of what we can do under current regulations and we can’t make explicit dosage recommendations. We can allow you to understand how much is in each one of your doses and have direct consultations with the consumer. It has also highlighted a need for potentially higher strength products. This has informed some of our product development.”
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