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Exploring the European Medical Cannabis Landscape: Reflecting on Cannabisforum 2023

Chief Executive Officer of Linneo Health, Don Bellamy, and Regulatory Affairs Director, María Ángeles Muñoz Marín share insights from this year’s Cannabisforum

During this year’s Cannabisforum, a leading event for our sector, we spent two very interesting days discussing current trends related to medical cannabis focusing on the cultivation, manufacture and distribution of cannabis-based products for medicinal purposes across, not just our home-nation Spain, but the whole of Europe. We also had the opportunity to participate in two thought-provoking panel discussions, shedding light on crucial topics that are shaping the future of our industry.

We discussed the rapid growth and opening of the medical cannabis market across Europe, as an increasing number of countries recognise the therapeutic potential of medicinal cannabis. Importantly, we have seen a significant increase in the need for robust laws and regulatory frameworks to ensure patient safety and enable greater access to medical cannabis treatments – key to ensuring patients are treated with cannabis medicines of the highest standard. Their patient experience must be the same as for any medicinal product. Patient safety is paramount.

The contrasting regulatory approaches between countries highlight the complexities surrounding the legislation of medical cannabis in Europe. In Spain, a lack of comprehensive regulation still exists, leading to inconsistencies in the way medical cannabis is accessed and prescribed. Countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Italy have established frameworks so that patients in need can access an appropriate cannabis-based therapy.

The political impasse on this issue has not only hindered the growth of the industry but has also impacted the well-being of patients who could benefit from medical cannabis but instead must continue to self-medicate, forced to rely on cannabis products from the illegal and uncontrolled black market. At Linneo Health, we firmly believe that the safe and regulated availability of medicinal cannabis is a reality in Spain that cannot be avoided and, as we discussed at Cannabisforum, it is crucial that Spain takes steps to address the inconsistencies and ensure that patients are not left behind.

Quality and regulation are very important for both Linneo and the broader medicinal cannabis sector. Given the intricate nature of medicinal cannabis, coupled with its classification as a narcotic, there are stringent standards to uphold. With the increasing demand for standardised dosage forms and administration methods, it is crucial to accurately measure the cannabinoid content and other related compounds in cannabis flower. Much attention is often given to cannabinoids like THC and CBD. However, it is important to note that terpenes play an equally important role in the overall therapeutic effects of cannabis flower. Linneo has been able to develop techniques for the obtention of cannabis varieties with unique cannabinoids and terpenes, emphasising our position as a global leader in the research, cultivation and supply of cannabis.

Sadly, there remains limited support and funding available for medical cannabis research and development due to the surrounding stigma. For medicinal cannabis to be incorporated into routine medical practice, with physicians prescribing it and pharmacists dispensing it, we need to end health professionals’ uncertainty over the benefits and safety of these products. For that to happen, the industry has to make an effort to undertake comprehensive training initiatives and present compelling evidence.

Alongside rigorous clinical trials on medicinal cannabis, real-world evidence (RWE) offers a unique perspective on this therapeutic’s potential. By examining data from patients who have been using medical cannabis to manage certain conditions, healthcare authorities can gain valuable insights into its effectiveness and potential side effects. Countries like Germany and the Netherlands have recognised this and are incorporating RWE in their decision-making processes, forming established patient registries to collect and analyse data on medical cannabis use. By using this information, informed decisions about the approval and regulation of medical cannabis for specific conditions can be made. Additionally, healthcare professionals can gain a better understanding of which patients may benefit most from cannabis treatment, ultimately improving patient care and outcomes.

The medicinal cannabis industry is a rapidly growing and evolving sector, but still has a long way to go. Health authorities are progressively adopting a more receptive stance towards the regulation of medicinal cannabis, particularly in the context of managing chronic and acute pain conditions such as arthritis or neuropathic pain. Additionally, there is a growing acknowledgment of its potential to alleviate cancer-related symptoms, including pain, nausea, and diminished appetite. Moreover, its application extends to addressing issues of anxiety and insomnia. It is important to emphasize that medicinal cannabis does not offer a curative solution; instead, it represents a palliative treatment option that can improve the health-related quality of life of patients.

Our participation in Cannabisforum was a rewarding experience, and we’re proud that Linneo could be at the forefront of discussions on topics such as genetics, regulation and commercialisation. While the industry continues to make strides globally to improve access to medicinal cannabis for patients who need it most, there is still work to be done.

Looking forward, we must continue to work towards greater harmonised regulation in more European countries, and more people believing in medicinal cannabis, with doctor and pharmacist communities confident to safely choose cannabis as a medicinal product and, ultimately, to improve patient care.

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