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Behind the scenes of medicinal cannabis company Cannasouth


When a doctor approached Nic Foreman at a conference and told him that a medicinal cannabis product had transformed his life blighted by irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, it confirmed he was onto something.

He reckons it’s a sign that the much-maligned plant has “something really interesting” going on.

Foreman, along with Mark Lucas, is co-founder of Hamilton-based biopharmaceutical company Cannasouth.

Driven by the “high-end science” of the plant, the company aims to produce top quality cannabis compounds and medicines.

With the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme set to come into play by early 2020, the company is gearing up for what they believe will be a highly-competitive market.

Their team of scientists are now honing their processes to extract desired compounds from the plant and refine it down to a pure product.

They have been able to refine a sample to 99.7 per cent of the non-psychoactive cannabidiol compound (CBD), Foreman said.

In May, the company launched their initial public offering (IPO) and in June listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange.

They have now grown their first crop of cannabis in their new cultivation facility – poised to harvest it in about two weeks’ time.

Cannasouth are growing about 60 cannabis plants in their cultivation facility, and have multiple different strains of the plant.

“This is a milestone for the industry,” Lucas said, who knows other companies are on the same path but believes Cannasouth are a few steps ahead.

About 60 plants are being grown under lights and fans in the undisclosed location, surrounded by security cameras and sensors.

They are growing a range of cannabis strains for research purposes only.

Anything they don’t use will be destroyed.

THC is the compound within cannabis that has the psychoactive effect. Some of the strains Cannasouth are growing have a higher proportion of CBD.

“We want to get away from the thinking this is about smoking dope and getting high,” Lucas said. “A lot of compounds in the cannabis plant have other medical uses and benefits.”

Different compounds have been linked with anti-inflammatory benefits, bone-healing, irritable bowel syndrome, and anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders, Lucas said.

CBD, for instance, may help with epilepsy, and not just for humans.

Lucas and Foreman say the compounds in the plant are fascinating.

“We have people contacting us all the time with their animals, dogs, suffering from epilepsy wanting to know when medicinal cannabis will be available for their pets.”

It’s the endocannabinoid​ system that Foreman and Lucas find so fascinating – endocannabinoids​ being naturally produced substances in humans and animals which are similar to the effects of cannabis, and partly why the plant is thought to have health benefits.

But Lucas points out medicinal cannabis cannot solve all ailments.

“As a science company we say it’s not the panacea, but these compounds are really interesting.

“All due to the fact that they mimic the internal endocannabinoids​ that we produce,” Foreman adds.

And despite fielding criticism after the share price on the NZX slumped, Lucas believes the price will recover.

“When we listed the share price took a dip, which is unfortunate, we obviously can’t control that.

“We’re an early company in an early sector so you will get some volatility. We obviously want to see that price recover so we’re working as hard as we can to make that happen.”

He believes there is a growing demand for medicinal cannabis products.

“Patients are demanding access [to medicinal cannabis] because of anecdotal data. When the clinical data catches up over the next three, four, or five years as various studies go on around the world and doctors become more familiar with these medicines, we think there will be quite a big demand.”

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