INNOVATING WITH CANNABIS: 5 KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM CANNABIS EUROPA

 
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Industry trends in Europe are heading towards a research-driven approach to cannabis and the further assertion of the drug as a medicine and a way to help people that are suffering. Kfir Kachlon, Senior Analyst and Cannabis-Tech Lead at OurCrowd writes on his experience at Cannabis Europa. 

This past May at Cannabis Europa, Europe’s largest cannabis convention, I was invited to participate on a panel about Investment in the European Medical Cannabis Industry.

This year’s Cannabis Europa was an incredible experience to be a part of with a crowd of more than 400 people gathered to discuss the future of medical cannabis in Europe. It was a very diverse conference both in terms of nationalities and expertise, bringing together Europe’s leading policy influencers to discuss the future of cannabis in Europe. Speakers and attendees were either patients, doctors, researchers, politicians, policymakers, and entrepreneurs from all around the world. For these thinkers, it’s clearly a question of when, not if, medical cannabis becomes widely available and what needs to be done to make this happen as smoothly as possible in Europe.

When it comes to investing in Cannabis-related technology startups, OurCrowd is a big believer, having already invested in both Syqe Medical and EdenShield. We are now focused on developing our Cannabis-Tech portfolio even further, either by directly investing in great startups and teams, or by collaborating with other leading VCs in the field. For us, visiting Cannabis Europa was a great chance to interact with entrepreneurs, scientists, investors, and influencers, and learn from them what the future holds for the European cannabis industry.

Here are 5 key takeaways from Cannabis Europa:

1. People are suffering: Throughout the busy conference program were various sessions focusing on policy making and the use of marijuana as medical relief for patients. I took time to sit at one of the sessions in which patients discussed the challenges of accessing medical cannabis in Europe, where many governments refuse to regulate medical cannabis – the harsh implications of which serve as challenges in their everyday lives. This reality was highlighted by the story of patient-activist Vera Twomey, a mother from Ireland, whose daughter, Ava, suffers from a rare and devastating form of epilepsy, Dravet Syndrome. To protest the Irish government’s refusal to regulate medical cannabis, Vera walked 150 miles to raise awareness for the cause. Ava, now eight years old, is one of only seven people in Ireland to have been granted a license for medical cannabis. This treatment, Vera said, gave Ava the freedom “to live, to grow and to be happy, with a brighter future.”

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When addressing the point of why doctors and major health systems are reluctant to prescribe or approve cannabis for medicinal purposes, the main reason was that there’s a very low certainty in everything considering cannabis as a medicine and the flower itself (i.e. potency, what Entourage Effects are good for, which symptoms, diseases, etc.). For me, the biggest takeaway from this session is that in order to create a better world and improved treatments for patients, technology and research must first overcome the prejudices associated with cannabis and MDs and health systems must get better education tools to become more knowledgeable on the topic, making them more confident in cannabis as a medicine.

2. North America and Europe are not the same: It was very apparent from the crowd, the business owners I spoke with and the participating investors, that what’s true for one continent, isn’t necessarily true for the other. It was pretty obvious that the North American companies were focused more on recreational cannabis while the Europeans were focused more on cannabis use for medicinal purposes. This comes as no surprise when looking at the recent research that estimates that the main difference between the North American and European cannabis markets is that recreational use will dominate sales in the U.S. The European market, with a budget of $1.3T in health care spending, is projected to be prime for medical cannabis market domination and become the largest medical marijuana market in the world. The interesting part of this takeaway is that cannabis businesses, especially those in the North America, are going to discover that expansion into the European market poses a unique set of challenges—from navigating foreign bureaucracies to ensuring compliance with UN treaties.

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3. Israel is leading (again): It is unsurprising that Israel was among the first countries to legalize medical marijuana and is one of just three countries with a government-sponsored cannabis program. In terms of research, right now, there are more than 110 clinical trials involving cannabis underway in Israel – more than any other country. Many of those studies are funded by the Israeli government. Israel also has the world’s highest ratio of marijuana users, with 27% of the population aged 18-65 having used marijuana in 2016. While walking around in the conference and listening to talks and panels, it was remarkable to see the appreciation that professionals and investors from many nationalities, held for Israel’s research, innovation in the field of cannabis technologies, and progressive approach to the medicinal use of cannabis, further highlighting the fact that Israel has taken the role of the lead in the scientific/ medical aspects of cannabis.

4. The reality is changing: It’s becoming clearer every day that the reality around cannabis is rapidly changing with more countries opening their regulation to medicinal cannabis, with the rise of public interest in cannabis companies’ stocks, and as science continues to discover the ways cannabis is efficient for many medical cases. A decade ago, the discussion about the future of the cannabis industry in Europe was dominated by fringe activists and patients, but at this conference, we saw leading thinkers from business and science seated together, focusing their efforts on how to change regulation and enable bringing medical cannabis to patients.

5. A pioneer’s atmosphere: Although cannabis is illegal in the U.K., who was totally absent from the conference, the atmosphere in conference and the events surrounding it was intoxicating. A strong sense of “we’re in this together” and of pioneering a relatively young industry, was all over the room. Entrepreneurs, scientists, business leaders, politicians, and patients were mixed in deep discussions, sharing their experiences and challenges, and thinking about how they can help each other to overcome the challenges. I felts as if I was looking on at one of the early CES tech conferences where a small group of passionate people got together to lead and build something that would change the world. Indeed, a great time to be involved in the industry and invest in it.

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This year’s Cannabis Europa was very interesting, showing us that the industry trends in Europe are heading towards a research-driven approach to cannabis and the further assertion of the drug as a medicine and a way to help people that are suffering. This shift will be fueled by further efforts to change policy, educate medical professionals, politicians and users, and invest in technology and research. I believe that this is where Israel, as one of the world’s leaders in approach to medicinal cannabis, research and innovation in cannabis, and general progressive approach to cannabis usage, can vastly contribute to the status of cannabis in Europe (a market projected to be worth $66.8B), either by continuing their research to alleviate the medical community’s concerns or with technology that will help structure the ways patients interact with cannabis. It is definitely a great time to be involved and witness another industry that Israeli companies and individuals are positioned to lead.

Republished with permission from OurCrowd