Aus­tralia cau­tiously en­ters med­i­cal mar­i­juana mar­ket

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

At a se­cret lo­ca­tion in Aus­tralia’s south­east, Peter Crook del­i­cately tends to a two-month-old cannabis cut­ting. Barely knee high, it is one of about 50 gov­ern­ment-sanc­tioned “mother plants” to be cloned for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of crops for the coun­try’s fledg­ling medic­i­nal mar­i­juana in­dus­try. “I think we’ll see Aus­tralia punch above its weight, both in agri­cul­ture re­search as well as med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy,” says Crook, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Cann Group Lim­ited, the firm granted Aus­tralia’s first com­mer­cial grower’s li­cense. “As dif­fer­ent con­di­tions come on­line we are go­ing to see the mar­ket grow rapidly.”

Fol­low­ing Canada, Is­rael, and more than half the US states, who through vary­ing ap­proaches have le­gal­ized medic­i­nal mar­i­juana, Aus­tralia has sig­naled its in­ten­tion for a home­grown in­dus­try. But a patch­work of reg­u­la­tions that guard ac­cess for many des­per­ate pa­tients, and a lack of con­fi­dence among doc­tors in pre­scrib­ing the drug, are act­ing as im­ped­i­ments. While recre­ational mar­i­juana use re­mains il­le­gal in Aus­tralia laws passed last year per­mit med­i­cal use, with a dozen li­censes since is­sued, rang­ing from cul­ti­va­tion and re­search to man­u­fac­tur­ing.

At least 10 sec­tor-re­lated firms have listed on Aus­tralia’s stock ex­change, while tens of mil­lions of dol­lars has been pledged for clin­i­cal tri­als in­ves­ti­gat­ing treat­ment for con­di­tions in­clud­ing epilepsy and re­lief for the ter­mi­nally ill. Driven by a grow­ing recog­ni­tion of treat­ment for chronic pain, arthri­tis and mi­graines, the global mar­ket is es­ti­mated to reach US$55.8 bil­lion by 2025 with the US, Canada and Is­rael lead­ing the way, USbased an­a­lyst Grand View Re­search says.

‘Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment’

But un­like those mar­kets, which have lib­eral pa­tient-ac­cess, Aus­tralia has a “very con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment” that wants a reg­u­la­tory frame­work in place up front, says Adam Miller, founder of med­i­cal cannabis start-up Bud­dingTech. “They’re do­ing things by the book so that when they have the ev­i­dence re­quired to sat­isfy not only Aus­tralia’s but other coun­tries’ gov­ern­ments, and med­i­cal bod­ies, they will be able to ex­port those prod­ucts to those coun­tries,” he added.

Last year, re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney es­ti­mated a le­gal do­mes­tic med­i­cal mar­ket would ini­tially be worth more than Aus$100 mil­lion (US$75 mil­lion) a year. Miller, who was drawn to the in­dus­try after re­search­ing al­ter­na­tives for his se­ri­ously-ill mother, says un­lock­ing the lo­cal mar­ket re­quires eas­ing pa­tient ac­cess and ed­u­cat­ing doc­tors. But not at the ex­pense of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try’s in­tegrity.

“Any new prod­ucts that are go­ing to be dis­trib­uted to a large num­ber of pa­tients need to go through the same mech­a­nism that any other drug would go through, and cannabis is no dif­fer­ent,” he says. Doc­tors ac­knowl­edge the plant’s po­ten­tial in pal­lia­tive care, epilepsy and spas­tic­ity but re­main guarded in its broader use, cit­ing lim­ited sci­en­tific proof. “It’s been around since pre-his­tory and if it was the panacea for a whole range of med­i­cal con­di­tions it was claimed to be by some ad­vo­cates, then we would have been us­ing it for a long pe­riod of time,” says Aus­tralian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Michael Gan­non.

‘Pretty an­gry pretty quickly’

But for many, change is too slow. Arielle Hard­ing had her first epilep­tic seizure at 15months-old. Suf­fer­ing from about 100 a day, treat­ment with tra­di­tional drugs made things worse. Her des­per­ate par­ents re­cently tried small doses of Cannabid­iol, or CBD, a non-psy­choac­tive mar­i­juana de­riv­a­tive in liq­uid form and Arielle, now five, shows few signs of her con­di­tion. “At first we were just over­joyed that that had hap­pened but you also find that you get pretty an­gry pretty quickly, when you re­al­ize that we could have had this three years ago and what a dif­fer­ence that would that have made,” her fa­ther Tim re­calls.

The le­gal CBD oil he pur­chases is not an elixir, but like thou­sands seek­ing cannabis treat­ment in Aus­tralia, Hard­ing says he is un­able to ex­plore the drug fur­ther for fear of break­ing com­pli­cated laws. — AFP

SYD­NEY: This photo shows peo­ple walk­ing past a dis­play of low tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol (THC) cannabis plants at the Hemp, Health and In­no­va­tion Expo in Syd­ney. —AFP pho­tos

SYD­NEY: This photo shows An­drew Kavasi­las of Med­i­cal Can­ni­bas Lim­ited look­ing at a dis­play of low tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol (THC) cannabis plants at the Hemp, Health and In­no­va­tion Expo in Syd­ney.

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