A four-year experiment to try and solve the Netherland’s ‘backdoor’ cannabis criminality problem could see patients turning to coffee shops for easier access.
The cultivation and sale of cannabis for recreational purposes are strictly prohibited in the Netherlands – unless you are visiting one of the country’s famous coffee shops.
These establishments are allowed to sell small amounts of cannabis but operate under strict rules, including a limited stock of 500 grams.
On a municipal level, authorities can decide how many coffeeshops it will allow if any, and as the country deals with a growing number of “drug tourists”, individual municipalities can choose to ban foreign visitors from entering the region’s coffee shops.
Although the sale of the drug is tolerated, coffee shops face a contradiction in Dutch law known as the ‘backdoor policy’. Shops can sell the drug to their customers, but their suppliers are forbidden from cultivating and selling cannabis to them. In other words, sales through the front door are allowed, while sales through the backdoor are not.
“As a result of the policy of tolerance, the sale of cannabis to users is permitted, but the cultivation, sale and purchase of that cannabis is prohibited, which easily leads to crime. After all, the coffee shop needs to be supplied,” said Ellen Gielen, head of the life sciences group at global law firm, CMS and co-author of the company’s ‘Expert Guide on Cannabis Legislation’.
“The discussion to legalise the supply of coffee shops with cannabis has been going on for several years.”
A 2008 “weed summit” brought together 33 Dutch mayors from various municipalities and different political parties to discuss drug tourism in border regions. A survey carried out by the evening newspaper NRC Handelsblad revealed that 80 percent of the mayors in attendance were in favour of ‘regulating the backdoor’.
Over a decade later, the Netherlands is now embarking on an experiment across ten municipalities to evaluate the effects of a closed supply chain for coffeeshops.
Ten commercial cultivators will be made exempt from current laws, allowing them to sell and deliver quality-controlled cannabis to a total of 79 coffee shops.
The experiment is known as the ‘controlled cannabis supply chain experiment’.
The legally produced cannabis will have to be lab-tested and meet the Dutch government’s quality, labelling and packaging requirements. But there will be no limit to the THC concentration and producers can set their own pricing.
Cultivators applied to be part of the study in July 2020 and are due to be selected this month before the Dutch government kick starts the four-year experiment.
“The aim is to see if and how cultivators can supply quality-controlled cannabis to coffee shops in a decriminalised way,” Gielen added.
“In addition, the government wants to examine the effects of the experiment on the problems that some municipalities experience – for instance, on crime and public health.
“The experiment means that more suppliers and cultivators are contracted by the government and there are more options for the sale of seeds and or cannabis.”
Gielen anticipates that recreational use through coffee shops will, in part, substitute medicinally prescribed cannabis.
“Doctors are holding back from prescribing cannabis and health insurance companies, in general, do not reimburse for medicinal cannabis,” Gielen said.
“Some patients therefore choose to get their cannabis at coffee shops.”
Although it has been legal for any physician to prescribe medical cannabis in the Netherlands since 2003, treatment guidelines do not encourage prescribing due to the lack of clinical evidence.
“Especially now that the government is planning to supervise the supply and quality through the experiment, expectations are that medicinal users will switch to the freely available recreational cannabis, as they have to pay for it anyway.”
A research consortium that includes Breuer & Intraval, Rand Europe and the Trimbos Institute was commissioned by the Dutch government and will carry out an evaluation over the four-year period.
The consortium will investigate the impact of the experiment on health, user experience, nuisance and displacement effects.
“We will conduct numerous interviews with coffeeshop owners, municipalities, police and other stakeholders,” said Stijn Hoorens, senior research leader at Rand Europe.
“We will count coffeeshop visitors and conduct a survey amongst customers and ask them about their purchasing and consumption behaviour.”
The Trimbos Institute, meanwhile, will take cannabis samples from coffeeshops in both experimental and control cities and have them lab-tested and compared.
“At RAND, we will also aim to measure some of the developments outside the coffeeshops and whether we could observe any displaced effects on the illegal market,” Hoorens continued.
“This is very difficult, because we don’t have a reliable picture of what’s happening in the illegal market in the first place, let alone as a consequence of the experiment, but we’ll try.”
The results from the ten multiplicities involved with the experiment will be compared with a control group of ten other regions where the current laws are maintained.
The conclusions of the study will later be used by the government to decide on its next steps for designing the future of cannabis policy, however Hoorens said the main objective was not to reduce illegal production or curb organised crime.
“The primary objective is to test whether it is at all possible, or feasible to design, operate and enforce a closed supply chain for decriminalised cannabis,” Hoorens said.
“If the main actors in the supply chain, producers, distributors, coffee shops, consumers, local authorities and law enforcement are happy, the experiment has succeeded. However, we are also asked to attempt to measure the effects on public health, public safety, nuisance, crime, and displacements effects.”
At such an early stage, it is difficult to predict the outcome of the experiment, but Hoorens believes it is unlikely that the “backdoor” policy will still exist in the Netherlands after the four-year experiment.
“We have a number of hypotheses that we will test, but anything could happen,” Hoorens added.
“If customers don’t like the legally produced cannabis, the illegal market might thrive. If the legal products turn out to be a success, there might be a displacement from the illegal market, and perhaps even from other cities towards the coffee shops in intervention cities.
“I think it’s fair to say, that it is unlikely that the situation with a decriminalised front door and a criminalised back door will still be present in the Netherlands.”
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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