The Danish medical cannabis industry – six months on

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The future looks bright for the Danish medical cannabis industry, but speaking to Rikke Jakobsen, CEO of Cannabis Denmark, there is still work to be done.

The Danish medical cannabis industry is a dynamically evolving world, with this in mind, Health Europa spoke with Rikke Jakobsen, CEO of Cannabis Denmark in late 2018 to discuss the pioneering medical cannabis pilot and development programmes the country had recently launched, along with the impact this was set to have on patients, growers and healthcare professionals.

The Danish medical cannabis pilot programme was developed with a view to allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis products to vulnerable patients who have failed to respond to traditional therapies. The information and evidence collected during the trial will form the basis of more permanent legislation, which will be implemented at the end of the 4-year pilot scheme based on the findings.

Here Jakobsen updates us on the progress of the trial, along with how this will impact the economy, increase the availability of products and what the rest of Europe can learn from Denmark’s example.

Now that the medical cannabis trial is underway how will the research carried out within Denmark be affected by the results? Do they pose any new challenges?

Cannabis Denmark are not currently conducting any new research as we are fundraising to try and facilitate this. We do have around 15 studies in progress of which 4 or 5 are clinical trials. Unfortunately, none of the clinical trials are being conducted on the products being prescribed as part of the trial so we don’t yet have any results on the individual cannabinoids – only CBD and THC in combination.

We do hope to see more research in medical cannabis cultivated in Denmark within a year or two, but it does depend on the researchers. I’m sure that funding won’t be a problem because of the industries willingness to invest in research.

Prescriptions for cannabis increased over the course of 2018 with domestically cultivated cannabis expected to reach the market and be exported this year. What impact is this anticipated to have on pricing and the Danish economy as a whole?

Yes, we did see a dramatic rise in prescribed medical cannabis in the last quarter of 2018 after the introduction of oils, as before only dried cannabis was available. The most up to date figures from late April 2019 shows 429 prescribing doctors and over 2000 patients have been prescribed medical cannabis. With the introduction of Danish cultivated cannabis in September and October 2019 we expect to see another dramatic rise once again which should hopefully drive prices down.

In the next 2 years we expect that the all Danish patients will be swimming in medical cannabis products because a stipulation is that suppliers must ensure that the Danish market is fully equipped before they are permitted to begin exporting. Of course, this will have a huge impact on our economy and medical cannabis patients both within Denmark and across Europe.

As a not for profit organisation we care about all patients having access to medical cannabis as a treatment, and clearly there are problems and barriers to access all across Europe. This is why we hope that Denmark can set the highest standards for medical cannabis within the EU. At the same time, we hope that the EU will find a way to harmonise medical cannabis legislation across the Member States and acknowledge the compounds such as THC as having medicinal properties, so it becomes easier for counties to trade across borders within the EU. This way patients will benefit from easier access, low prices and the highest quality.

How will the results of the trial drive innovation and influence the variety of products available in Denmark, and by extension the medical conditions which cannabis can be treated with?

The trial itself won’t facilitate much innovation, but the framework has been designed to be liberal enough that it can promote research, innovation and development. Cannabis Denmark also plays a key role in pushing innovation forwards so that eventually patients will have access to a variety of high-quality cannabinoid-based products of with multiple delivery systems which are affordable. We know that medical cannabis has the potential to treat and alleviate symptoms and help solve many different medical problems in the future, and we remain devoted to push medical cannabis in the direction of being a recognised medical tool.

You have talked before about your ambition to establish a cannabinoid and terpene research institute, how close is this to becoming a reality and what would you like to see this achieve?

Establishing a cannabinoid institute is really the only way to keep up with the demand for medical cannabis. Research into its use is very far behind where it would usually be in terms of developing medicine. Furthermore, we know that we have a variety of cannabinoids and terpenes which can be used to manage symptoms in all kinds of medical conditions.

It is much easier to do the ground research in one unit and on that basis different companies can develop many kinds of medicines. I am very aware of the cost to create the facilities required, and it will require public funding and co-operation between all involved in the industry. Conversely, it is the only path to consider if you are completely serious about developing medical cannabis operations. I’m also aware that Denmark probably cannot do it alone and would need assistance and co-operation from other counties.

The beauty of it is that I think there is a strong desire for countries to work together between researchers, politicians and private companies. Nobody can walk alone when medical cannabis is still in its infancy and very much a private affair of the pharma industry. We are trying to work with and co-operate with all of the different sectors in Denmark, but we must also broaden this approach and do the same across the whole European Union.

What lessons can the rest of Europe learn from Denmark’s example? How do you anticipate the industry across Europe will develop over the next 5 years?

The best example other countries can learn from Denmark’s approach is our willingness to simply take the leap and act on this. I also think that every country needs a not for profit organisation like ours which keeps fighting for everyone to work together.

This is Cannabis Denmark’s task – to help the march of progress, push on, and facilitate co-operation until we reach our goals. Imagine that medical cannabis is Denmark is the way to illuminate the best path to healthy and successful life sciences and pharmaceutical industries.

As for the future of the industry we will most likely see it mature and different companies will find a way to develop medicine tailored to treat different conditions with a more personalised approach. Medical cannabis is not necessarily a suitable treatment for all conditions, but we can investigate further and develop certain strains and compounds to combat symptoms and conditions more specifically.

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