By Alice Wearn
The European medicinal cannabis market is growing exponentially and is expected to reach €3.2 billion by 2025. We’re seeing more and more countries legalise and utilise medicinal cannabis as the benefits of alternative medicine have come to light. But this isn’t without its challenges.
Despite the prevalence of medicinal cannabis in societies around the world, there are still misconceptions regarding it. Doctors are unwilling or not authorised to prescribe it themselves and many patients are unaware of their treatment options. Studies show that the few patients that do take medicinal cannabis are stereotyped as irresponsible potheads.
The stigma towards medicinal cannabis can be incredibly damaging and prevent genuine, life-saving treatments from being prescribed and taken by patients.
So, the question is, how do we debunk the stigma?
Why are people using medicinal cannabis?
The biggest stigma regarding medicinal cannabis is why it’s used. While recreational marijuana is slowly being legalised across US states and countries around the world, it’s very different to medicinal cannabis due to regulations and controls on dosage forms.
Primarily used in its flower state (referring to the actual leaves of the plant which can be smoked, turned into a concentrate, or used in edibles) or as an oil extract, medicinal cannabis may not be the cheapest or most available choice; however, the benefits are showing to far outweigh the costs.
Research has found it has the ability to treat people or ease suffering with chronic pain, epilepsy and more, with these rigorous regulations, standards, and procedures in place to ensure patient safety.
With such benefits, companies are now fighting to invest in R&D and new technologies focused on processing and purifying to bring down the cost of manufacturing but still retain the quality.
Enter the global pandemic
The medicinal cannabis industry is already on an upward trajectory, but the coronavirus pandemic has been able to speed up the process of offering alternative medicine.
A Managing Director I spoke to recently said:
“There has been noteworthy concern about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health services including the management of cancer and other diseases.”
During the first 8 months of 2020, 4.7 million fewer patients in England were referred for routine hospital care as compared to 2019. As such, this huge backlog caused by COVID-19 could take up to five years to clear. All around the world we’ve witnessed a sharp decline in patient referrals and diagnoses for some critical diseases and illnesses. Some in which early diagnosis can be the difference between life and death.
As the Managing Director stated, this has created a demand for alternative medicines without the long waiting lists of traditional treatments. This has allowed an opportunity for medicinal cannabis to enter the spotlight.
In a recent conversation I had with a Head of Commercial Operations, they stated:
“Companies have had the opportunity to take a deeper look at the benefits for patients.”
Perspectives have shifted towards medicinal cannabis as demand for other drugs has soared. With extensive supply and demand issues for drugs and treatments, it’s cleared the way for medicinal cannabis.
We’re not just in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but also a mental health pandemic. With a focus on self-care and wellbeing in response to deteriorating mental health, we’ve witnessed a turning point for medicinal cannabis.
Medicinal cannabis users with chronic pain and/or mental health conditions increased their cannabis usage on average by 91% since the pandemic began. Cannabidiol brand Love Hemp reported a 57% jump in sales in July 2020 over the previous month as more people sought natural health solutions to ease their anxiety or sleep troubles.
It’s clear that for some people suffering poor mental health in the pandemic, medicinal cannabis or cannabidiol products have been their lifeline. An increase in usage would suggest that the stigma is shrinking.
California, New York and Illinois are just some of the states in the United States that have legalised cannabis for recreational use. Meanwhile, recreational use is legalised throughout the whole of Canada. Despite this, there’s still a lot of stigma, inaccurate information and a lack of education regarding medicinal cannabis.
The question is, does legalising cannabis for recreational use make medicinal cannabis more stigmatised? Does it make people more sceptical about the possibilities of medicinal cannabis? Is the main limitation regarding medicinal cannabis a lack of education and understanding?
A Sales Director I spoke to stated:
“Only a limited number of Doctors can prescribe these products and many others are not yet comfortable or educated enough to do so. It all comes back to Doctors’ inability or unwillingness to prescribe alternative treatments such as medicinal cannabis.”
We need to see a collective call of action to educate those professionals with the credentials to prescribe drugs and medicines about the potential of medicinal cannabis. If we don’t, then we’ll never make any real progress.
They went on further to say:
“This has a knock-on effect and means that those people that cannot access it through the normal health care system will turn to the black market.”
Patients needing access to medicinal cannabis shouldn’t have to resort to the black market for the healthcare solutions they need. Not only is this unnecessary, but it can also be dangerous. The black market doesn’t have the same rigorous regulations and procedures in place to ensure its products are of high quality, fit for purpose and developed with patient safety at front of mind.
Patients are spending more than £2.6 billion a year on black market cannabis. It’s clear from this statistic that there’s high demand for cannabis and we must presume that a large portion of that is from people who would benefit from medicinal cannabis e.g. those suffering with chronic pain.
The European medicinal cannabis market is expected to reach €3.2 billion by 2025. But what’s needed to achieve this projected growth?
The Sales Director said:
“We need to give more confidence to physicians on its safety, impact and efficacy. The way in which we can do that is to be recognised and accepted by regulatory authorities”.
Along that same line of thought, the Head of Commercial Operations stated:
“Building a homogeneous set of Quality standards for medicinal cannabis is crucial for industry representatives lobbying for an EU regulatory framework.”
It’s clear then that to achieve this growth, medicinal cannabis developers must converge towards more traditional pharmaceutical standards and regulations. This would then reduce the number of cowboys that are selling cannabis through an irregulated environment.
The Head of Commercial Operations went on to say:
“We also need to set up a secure and high-quality supply via solid agreements – we need to ensure that own-brand products are constantly available and quickly”.
A more efficient supply chain will address the growing demand and need to reduce time to market. At the moment, the supply is insufficient to meet the current demand.
The Managing Director said:
“There are a lot of interruptions in the supply chain without correct partnerships in place”.
Strong partnerships and collaborations with suppliers hold the key to a successful supply chain for medicinal cannabis products.
Some final thoughts
While there are a lot of limitations and challenges surrounding medicinal cannabis, the industry is growing leaps and bounds. It’s a really exciting time for medicinal cannabis companies and manufacturers as this treatment breaks into the market space.
There’s always a little scepticism and stigma around new medical products – just look at Oxford/AstraZeneca with their COVID-19 vaccine. Medicinal cannabis is no different. But I believe to reach its predicted growth in the European market, a focus on education, regulation and supply chain holds the answer to removing the stigma once and for all.
If you’re a medicinal cannabis manufacturer or looking to expand your products, get in touch today so we can discuss your talent strategy.
t: +44 (0)203 355 7050 – ask for Alice
For more life science insights…
- Read our blog: Women In Life Sciences: Diversifying The Workforce
- View our executive search solutions to see how we can help you gain a competitive edge through talent.
* Fraser Dove International is a specialist executive search firm operating exclusively in the Life Science industry. Passionate about people, we take pride in helping exceptional life science organisations source the talent they need to design, manufacture and distribute life-changing drugs, treatments and devices which transform and save patient lives.