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In conversation with Europe’s “coolest” CBD brand

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Finn Hänsel - founder of VAAY. Photo credit: Sanity Group, Norman Posselt

With backing from the likes of Will.i.am, Justin Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun, actress Alyssa Milano and footballer Mario Götze, VAAY is on its way to becoming Europe’s most on-trend CBD brand, Cannabis Health speaks to the Berlin-based start-up.

Several years ago, German serial entrepreneur Finn Hänsel tried CBD for the first time. He had just run the Berlin half-marathon and his body was exhausted and inflamed. A friend of his, an athlete, suggested he give a CBD ointment a try to aid his recovery.

Hänsel says he was both “surprised” and “convinced” by the effects of CBD on his body.

Fast-forward to 2018, Hänsel teamed up with fellow cannabis advocate, Fabian Friede to launch Sanity Group, a research and development company focused on the therapeutic benefits of compounds derived from the cannabis plant.

Two years later, VAAY was born; a subsidiary of Sanity Group with an ambition to revolutionise the way we deal with our “stressed out” bodies and minds.

There is an abundance of products on the market, from high-tech gadgets to stationary, that claim to boost productivity in the workplace.

Finn Hänsel. Photo credit: Sanity Group, Norman Posselt

VAAY takes a different approach. It believes that in order to remain consistently productive and cope with the stresses of work and life, we need to pay more attention to the way we spend our downtime. By slowing down, people can prevent the mind and body from burning out.

“In the early 2000’s I noticed that an increasing number of people were trying to keep themselves awake, working harder for longer,” Hänsel explains. “Many turned to coffee to give them this alertness.

“I have noticed for myself that I can work hard over several days, but I need downtime in between. Everyone needs time off if they want to remain productive. If you’re always working hard, you can quickly slip into an unhealthy lifestyle.

“This is where CBD came in.”

Identifying a gap in the market for a “cool” CBD brand that offered more than simply oils and tinctures, Hänsel set out to develop a range of wellness products aimed at a young metropolitan audience.

“There was a space in the market for cool CBD brands,” Hänsel says. “In Germany, the only CBD products were the oils, so I saw a need for more sophisticated wellness products. We don’t see ourselves as a pure CBD brand, but as a brand for well-being that promotes mindfulness, balance and a healthy lifestyle.”

The company’s bold branding was quick to catch the attention of celebrity names in both Europe and the United States

In early December, VAAY completed a US$4.8 million funding round led by Birburger Ventures that attracted investment from several international celebrities, including Will.I.Am, Alyssa Milano, Mario Goetze and Stefanie Giesinger.

“I am a big fan of innovative health companies, especially after seeing the growing research that is done around the hemp plant,” said Will.I.Am in a statement.

“The Sanity Group team has found the right approach and have created high quality products to help people.”

 

The funding brought total investment in VAAY’s parent company, Sanity Group, to US$29 million; the highest level of investment raised in Europe to date by any cannabis start up.

“Investors see great potential in our company and the opportunity to participate in a rapidly growing and promising innovation market,” Hänsel adds.

 

“Will.I.Am is massively interested in wellness and products that can bolster our sense of balance and peace. The difference between VAAY and other wellness brands is that it feels approachable, fresh and exciting, without being preachy or exclusive.”

With a different colour for different functions, VAAY has three product ranges. The company’s ‘green’ range promotes relaxation with products that include a CBD and lavender bath bomb.

Red refers to ‘recovery’ with a range of gels spiked with CBD and menthol to soothe aches and pains. Its blue products are designed for sleep. Infused with 5-HTP, vitamin D and B12, the company says its CBD night capsules increase the brain’s production of melatonin, or the ‘sleep hormone’.

A firm believer in the power of full-spectrum CBD, VAAY makes use of the wide range of cannabinoids, terpenes and natural extracts found in the hemp plant.

“We chose full spectrum due to its increased therapeutic benefits,” Hänsel says. “Full spectrum exposes the body to a wide range of cannabinoids which can treat multiple ailments.

“Our products are smart, innovative and performance led. We always adopt a scientific approach to ensure the maximum efficacy of our products. A team of doctors, biologists and researchers work in tandem to create the most effective full spectrum products.”

VAAY has seen a boost in demand for its products throughout the pandemic, as people seek healthy and natural alternatives to cope with the building stress of lockdowns and social isolation.

Coinciding with its recent funding round, VAAY expanded its reach to the UK, where it currently applying for Novel Foods regulation.

“We are super excited for the year ahead,” Hänsel adds.

“We have lots of plans for product launches and some incredible collaborations.”

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Cannabliss to open brick and mortar dispensary

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Michael Dobson - Cannabliss founder

UK-based medical cannabis group, Cannabliss aims to help patients transition from the illicit market into the legal cannabis space.

Following a long, “drawn-out” application process, Cannabliss has secured a pharmacy licence for dispensing medical cannabis through its online platform.

Now, after handing out its first private prescription this month, the company has announced it will be opening a brick and mortar site in Preston in April 2021.

Set to open on 12 April, the store will sell legal, over-the-counter cannabis-based products and also offer advice and guidance to people who are seeking to secure a medical cannabis prescription.

Cannabliss was founded by Michael Dobson, who was involved in a legal battle for several years over the legality of cultivating cannabis plants. In a saga that climaxed with him taking the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd to court, he fought for a judicial review of cannabis legislation.

Having spent many years involved with the illicit cannabis market, including a period behind bars for growing several of his own plants, Dobson is now on a mission to widen access to legal medical cannabis.

“The vast majority of people have very little understanding of the legal cannabis market,” he tells Cannabis Health.

“What we’re doing is effectively creating a concierge service in which we help guide [people] through the process of becoming a legalised cannabis patient.”

Cannabliss says it aims to build trust with its customers and establish itself as a “go-to” place for trusted information about the medical cannabis landscape.

Dobson explains: “Customers have the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation with somebody who specialises in this particular area, rather than it just being a vape shop or health food store that has added cannabis products to its already existing range.

“If we do have somebody coming in and asking about the process of getting access to medical cannabis, we can explain that to them.”

Currently, in the UK, there are qualifying conditions that must be met before being considered for cannabis-based treatment.

Although an estimated 1.4 million people consume cannabis for medicinal purposes, very few can access it via a prescription.

Dobson believes that there is a “great deal” of people that could meet the criteria for a medical cannabis prescription but have never considered it due to the cost and exclusivity of private healthcare.

He says Cannabliss will provide support to its customers if they choose to go through the official process.

“Even though the prices have dropped significantly over the past few years, we still think there’s going to be a hurdle to overcome in terms of breaking down that barrier; that stigma that is there for a lot of people,” he says.

The company is already putting plans in motion to expand into a franchise with two provisional stores set to open this summer in Leicester and Essex.

As part of this franchising effort, Cannabliss aims to provide opportunities for people who may have previously been involved with the illicit cannabis market.

Dobson believes that it is “morally right” to give people the chance to enter the burgeoning legal market.

“I always wanted to include as many people as possible within what we’re doing, and support people that have been in a similar position to myself,” Dobson adds.

“We will not discriminate on somebody because they maybe have a criminal history like myself.

“In actual fact, these people are actually the best people to have running our franchises because they’re so knowledgeable.”

Dobson also believes that this approach could help reduce the influence and scale of the illegal market.

“By removing people from the illegal market and bringing them into the legal market, you’re getting rid of the black market rather than putting something in place that’s in competition with it,” he says.

Looking ahead, Dobson says the company is feeling “very positive”. It has formed partnerships with suppliers in the UK and Europe, including a distribution agreement with Canopy Growth Corporation subsidiary, Storz and Bickel, for its range of medical-grade vaporisers.

“It’s going very well and we’re anticipating a lot of interest,” Dobson adds.

“Feedback that I’m getting from different people [in the sector] is that a lot of people are interested in what we’re doing, how we’ve got to where we’ve got to and, in particular, my backstory and how that fed into the whole ethos of what we’re trying to do.

“I feel very strongly that the UK is going to become a world leader in the legalised cannabis space over the next few years and I’m looking forward to playing my own small part in that.”

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Twitter’s Katie Ford joins Fyllo to focus on cannabis sector

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Katie Ford - former head of global brands for Twitter

Tech and media leaders are shunning social media giants to bring their expertise to the cannabis industry.

Twitter’s former head of global brands, Katie Ford has announced she is joining cannabis marketing company Fyllo as chief operating officer.

Fyllo is working with major cannabis companies to enable them to advertise to mainstream consumers.

Ford was previously at Twitter where she served for the past two years as head of global brands and is one of the biggest names in digital media, with a career built at Fortune 100 media & technology companies at the intersection of data, marketing, and creativity. 

She spent two plus decades at Publicis Media, rising to the rank of president where she was the Executive lead on P&G, Coca-Cola, USAA, and Kellogg’s accounts.

During her time at Publicis she was recognized by Ad Age as one of the “Women to Watch,” and by Campaign US, as a leading “Media Maven.” 

From there she joined Amobee’s executive team as chief client officer, where she was integral in delivering two successful acquisitions within 18 months, along with achieving positive EBITDA with over $1billion in annual revenue. 

The Fyllo Compliance Cloud is a suite of software and services built to overcome the complexities of highly regulated industries.

With 2021 shaping up to be a transformational year for cannabis, Fyllo now allows cannabis brands to market themselves at a scale that has never been possible for companies that operate in highly regulated industries.

Mainstream brands also seek out Fyllo’s Data Marketplace to target previously inaccessible cannabis and CBD consumers.

Ford was the first person to be appointed to Fyllo’s board of directors, a role she’s held since 2019.

“Katie has been an incredible partner since day one, always believing in the company and its mission,” said Chad Bronstein, founder and CEO of Fyllo.

“She was the first person to join our Board and has been instrumental in Fyllo’s creation, growth and development.”

Ford added: “Fyllo has built incredible products and proven their business model in a very short period of time.

“I look forward to being part of Fyllo’s success as we build breakthrough solutions for companies in highly regulated industries like cannabis, pharma, and alcohol.”

As COO, Ford will depart Fyllo’s board of directors to assume her new executive position.

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Kanabo brings its unique VapePod to UK patients

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The VapePod can administer a measured dose of cannabis extract

Following its listing on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) cannabis company Kanabo is set to make its unique vaporiser available to UK patients. 

A week after it became the second company to list on the LSE, Israeli firm Kanabo, has announced it will supply its medical-grade inhalation device, VapePod and a line of medicinal cannabis formulations in pods for the UK market. 

The company has signed its first distribution agreement with the UK’s biggest cannabis clinic provider, LYPHE Group, which is part of Drug Science’s Project Twenty21. 

Through this new agreement, Kanabo’s VapePod medicinal cannabis formula, will be made available to Project Twenty21 patients under LYPHE Group’s brand NOIDECS.

Kanabo seeks to provide an alternative solution to the smoking of medicinal cannabis flowers.

The VapePod will be the first product of its kind, a medical-grade handheld vaporiser with controlled metered dosage, made available to UK cannabis patients with a medical prescription. 

It can administer an accurate, measured dose of cannabis extract, which the company hopes will improve patient access and boost trust amongst medical professionals.

The initial formula, which Astral Health will distribute under the name NOIDECS 400T, is based on the Israeli medical cannabis pharmacopoeia as a recommended ratio for pain management. 

Kanabo and Astral Health will work closely to make the products available to patients over the coming months.

Avihu Tamir, Kanabo’s CEO commented: “We believe this new product will be revolutionary for medical cannabis patients who need immediate relief of pain, and will replace the smoking of cannabis flowers as a medical delivery method, which is one of Kanabo’s main targets.”

Kanabo founder, Avihu Tamir

Project Twenty21 provides eligible patients with affordable medical cannabis treatment, monitored by Drug Science and aims to create the UK’s largest body of evidence for the effectiveness and tolerability of medical cannabis.

LYPHE Group announced its partnership with Project Twenty21 in December to bring a range of EU-GMP and equivalent GMP medicines to the UK.

LYPHE Group, which has more than 60 percent of the British patient market, recently entered into a supply partnership with Canadian manufacturer, Northern Green to bring a range of indoor grown flower-based products to the market.

Dean Friday, LYPHE’s CEO added: “We have seen the headlines, and we have witnessed the negative impact of opioids. Pain is not going to go away, so a more natural and caring approach to treating it must find centre stage. Thanks to our partnership with Kanabo we now have a metered dose NOIDECS product that can treat patients across the U.K. that suffer from chronic pain.”

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