October 17th, 2018 marked a monumental moment when Canada’s cannabis legalization went into full effect. Our neighbors to the north have changed the game with concern to cannabis on a global scale. With Canada poised to be the largest international export of cannabis globally, it has gotten us thinking about the future of cannabis here in the United States. Since legalization in Colorado and Washington, we have seen many states adopt medical and/or recreational cannabis programs of their own. People are really beginning to understand the benefits of this remarkable plant and are looking to bring it into their lives, but as we move forward with cannabis legalization, the lines between medical cannabis and recreational cannabis are becoming more and more blurred. We are currently seeing medical cannabis being used as a stepping stone on the way to recreational legalization. This begs the question, how do we define medical cannabis vs recreational? What if a consumer uses cannabis for both? Can a drug be both recreational and medical in nature? We believe the answer is yes, and that medical cannabis and recreational cannabis are two sides of the same coin.
Here in Colorado, we have seen our medical market fall behind the recreational market since recreational legalization in 2014. Our programs for both are not that different than one another, and almost every “medical cannabis” product is available for purchase on the recreational side. Going to the doctor and going through the process of getting a medical card in Colorado for many just doesn’t seem worth it, since the access to products is not limited. That being said, we now have a large portion of our medical cannabis users shopping on the recreational side, for products they are using medically. This further blurs the definition of what medical cannabis is, but gives weight to the idea that recreational cannabis users are really medical cannabis users, even if they don’t realize it.
Last week we had the pleasure of taking part in the MJ for MDs Conference here in Denver. It was an enlightening experience to talk with medical doctors and get their opinions about cannabis as a medicine. The general consensus between the doctors that we spoke with is that cannabis does in fact have many different medical applications, but we are still in the infant stages of figuring out exactly how to best treat people using cannabis from a traditional medicine and pharmaceutical stand point. Some issues that came up in the conversations were proper dosing, and the efficacy of cannabinoids when used in their isolated forms vs. full plant medicine. Traditionally, pharmaceuticals are isolated compounds that are introduced into the body in a regimented dose in order to combat and ailment, or symptom. Cannabis as we know it now, works a little bit different. From what we can tell at this point, with the research and anecdotal evidence that we do have, is that cannabis works much better when the full plant is used, as opposed to using just the isolated cannabinoids. The compounds within cannabis collectively interact with the endocannabinoid system and work together synergistically to create the desired effects that the user is looking for. You may have heard this referred to as The Entourage Effect and it’s within this synergistic interaction that we find cannabis has its best medical efficacy.
Although our medical program here in Colorado may be falling behind our recreational program, there is no shortage of medically minded lifestyle products being brought to market. Companies like Stillwater, 1906, CBx Sciences and Mary’s Medicinals all have created products with a medical focus, marketed toward a medically minded consumer. Each of these companies have products with broad spectrums of cannabinoids and have even begun to incorporate other plant medicines into their formulations. These companies have also brought low dose, or micro dose products to market which really speaks to the amount of people using cannabis in their daily lives to combat illnesses like MS or Fibromyalgia or symptoms like pain or anxiety. Globally there are companies that are working to achieve this same goal as well. Tikun Olam is a company in Israel that is a global leader in cannabis research. The cultivation team at Tikun Olam have been hard at work breading strains with specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles to combat specific illnesses, conditions and symptoms. These strains can be turned into products that people can use throughout their day to seek relief from whatever is ailing them. Lifestyle medicinal products seem to be the way medical cannabis is heading and we believe this is the right direction.
Since cannabis as we know it now works best as a full plant medicine, we are still a little ways off from a full blown pharmaceutical takeover of the medical cannabis market. Big pharma is going to have to discover ways to create medicine with cannabis that has true medical efficacy and doctors are going to have to believe in it enough to start prescribing it to patients. It will be very interesting to see how cannabis will become incorporated into pharmaceutical medicine over time. Although cannabis may become part of some pharmaceutical medicines, we believe that the market for lifestyle medicinal cannabis will always thrive. Since cannabis is body chemistry specific, taking a holistic approach to healing with it works for a lot of people. Everyone’s journey with cannabis is unique and that’s part of what makes it such an interesting plant. One thing is for sure though. Everyone who consumes, consumes for a reason. Sure, we all like to get high. But maybe, when you get high your back starts to not hurt, or the stress of the day melts away and allows you to relax. Whatever it is for you, its unique and it’s the reason you’ve chosen to make cannabis part of your life style.