The Global Medical Cannabis Explosion is Imminent


Written by Michael Sassano, CEO, Somai Pharmaceuticals

Recently, I have become more optimistic about the global landscape of medical cannabis and the direction in which major regulatory agencies are heading. Years of stifling regulatory environments and political headwinds that have hampered the cannabis industry seem to be giving way to real progress.

Earlier this year, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a 252-page report stating that cannabis is safe. The health authority further noted that cannabis has true potential as a medicine that can help with symptomatic conditions for at least 15 medical indications. After decades of assertions that there is not enough evidence cannabis is safe and valuable as a medicine, this news is truly transformational for the industry.

Most reading this article have always known this. However, many people believed these hostile, politically motivated, and biased authorities were blocking hundreds of millions of people from access to safer medications. This publication from the HHS could and should herald a major shift.

Cannabis for Symptomatic Neuropathic Pain: Moving Away from Opioids 

Let’s take a simple example: the admission that cannabis can help symptomatic neuropathic pain, a condition typically treated with opioids. Could the opioid epidemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people and left millions more addicted have been mitigated by opening access to cannabis?

The report from the HHS clearly states that cannabis is a safer alternative to opioids, as it is less addictive and has a far lower chance of overdose and adverse reactions than any opioid.

No matter what personal bias a lawmaker might have, no matter what social or religious beliefs may have prevented people from advocating for cannabis, this report is a clear sign that cannabis is an alternative to dangerous opioids like oxycodone.

What’s Next for Medical Cannabis? 

Authorities must grapple with the reality that both this document from the HHS and incredible amounts of anecdotal evidence show that cannabis is a safe and widely used therapeutic compound for countless medical indications.

Current Cannabis Recommendation and Consumption

The HHS document reports that  30,000 physicians in the U.S. recommend cannabis, and 6,000,000 patients report positive results.

These statistics do not include the millions of adult-use consumers and the countless unregulated market customers in the U.S. These consumers provide the most significant subset of evidence that cannabis can help individuals in myriad ways.


How to Classify Cannabis

Should cannabis be classified as a pharmaceutical, an herbal medicine, or a recreational product through novel food derivations?

The answer is all of the above.

Pharmaceutical Cannabis, Herbal Medicines and Comparative Market Sizes

It’s essential to consider the market sizes of related industries in the United States to understand the paths regulated cannabis may take (Note: Global market size estimates are much higher; these are U.S. figures).

Regulated Cannabis Versus Pharmaceutical Cannabis

The disparity in market size of the pharmaceutical cannabis and regulated cannabis industries is primarily due to the fact it takes 5-10 years to get a drug into the market and even longer to educate prescribers on its usage.

Additionally, adult use and medical cannabis are so much more profitable than pharmaceutical cannabis that many investors are discouraged from spending hundreds of millions of dollars on clinical trials.

Another critical factor that makes regulated cannabis more promising and profitable than pharmaceutical cannabis is that people want access to their medicine now. Immediate access is crucial because people are now more educated about the therapeutic potential of cannabis and don’t want to wait for pharmaceutical breakthroughs. Regulators must find a balance between immediate access and consumer safety.

Herbal Supplements Enable Expedited Access

There will undoubtedly be more pharmaceutical cannabis drugs. However, the herbal medicine route will provide faster access to cannabis medicines, as adult use is still working to gain political, social and regulatory acceptance.


The Politics of Medical Cannabis in the U.S. and Beyond

The U.S. is looking to reschedule cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III, which is only logical given the medical benefits of the plant. Additionally, it seems likely that Germany will remove the narcotics label on cannabis in the coming months. Of course, however, politics are still in the way.

Regardless of whether one or both countries succeed, the HHS report is now open. Other countries, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), must realize that people are already consuming cannabis; the job of policymakers is to provide their citizens with a safe regulatory path for cannabis consumption.

Cannabis as a Pharmaceutical Medicine

The most regulated and easiest political path forward for cannabis in countries worldwide will be medical access. This model favors the medically supervised distribution of herbal registered drugs under European Union Good Manufacturing Practices (EU-GMP) pharmaceutical standards.

Cannabis as an Herbal Medicine

Another potential path would be novel food GMP standards. This model would operate much like the current distribution and licensing framework for hemp and CBD products, wherein they are subject to some medical supervision through dispensary systems. This model may only be viable for some countries.

Adult Use Cannabis

Truly adult-use or recreational cannabis, as in the U.S. and Canada, is not viable for many other countries at this point. However, it is possible in the future as countries progress with understanding the broader issues surrounding legalization.


The Future of Cannabis as Herbal Medicine 

Herbal medical access to cannabis is the safest and most politically correct path. People deserve access to cannabis as outlined in the HHS report, and failing to provide safe access to regulated cannabis medicines will send people to the illicit markets or more harmful opioids.

We are witnessing the beginning of a global medical explosion in cannabis. We already have over 30,000 international clinical reports, hundreds of pages of Canadian reports on their medical cannabis patients, and innumerable amounts of observational data from adult-use consumers and medical cannabis patients in the U.S.

This powerful data will only continue to proliferate in light of recent news. Recognition from a major health authority that cannabis is safe and provides countless medical benefits is an incredible development for the industry. Now that the news is out, it’s only a matter of time before we see a positive revolution — and massive growth — in the medical cannabis industry. In other words, the dam has broken; it’s only a matter of time before the blocks blow out.


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