What is the Future of Medical Cannabis in Europe?
In this exclusive guest article, Franziska Katterbach, President, KHIRON Europe explores what the future holds for the medical cannabis industry in Europe.
In the European cannabis industry, we currently observe some very contradictory trends: medical cannabis products enjoy great popularity with doctors, pharmacies and last but not least patients and the market is continuously growing. On the other hand, capital markets are hesitant and more pessimistic. Why is that so?
The European medical cannabis industry is still very young as it only emerged in Europe around 2016 but it is rapidly growing. Unfortunately, right from the beginning overly optimistic economic expectations to the European market have been presented that one could speculate has happened because the large cannabis players from Canada were expecting the European market to develop like the Canadian market that legalized recreational cannabis for adult use in 2018.
Hence, there has been a lack of focus on building the (conservative) pharmaceutical cannabis industry in Europe. On the flipside, these companies that were early movers have attracted loads of capital that has been deployed to the European cannabis industry to build the infrastructure. Nevertheless, there is still a large untapped potential as, for example, in Germany, less than 10% of the doctors that could prescribe medical cannabis, actually prescribe it.
Hence, we need to address the unmet needs of the four important stakeholders in the European Cannabis market: patients, prescribers, insurances, and pharmacies.
As an industry, I think there is a certain responsibility to readjust economic and ethical mistakes in the nascent medical cannabis industry in Europe. With regards to the mentioned four key stakeholders, the economic strategy must focus on their needs, avoiding past “green rush” mistakes, and the cannabis industry has to act as a smart mover with a strong mission to regain and consolidate the trust of investors, prescribers, pharmacies and, most importantly, patients.
There are ongoing discussions in Germany and other European countries on the legalization of recreational cannabis that would change the cannabis industry with a transformation from the black market to a legalized consumer industry, with the additional focus on consumers on top of the patient-centric focus on medical cannabis, which is so important.
For now, the focus still must be on the continuously growing legal medical markets in Europe. The demand for therapies with medical cannabis is steadily increasing in various European countries as more and more individuals become aware of its potential benefits. The main goal should be to improve patient access to therapies with medical cannabis and health care services.
Growing European Medical Cannabis Markets
In general, there is a huge global potential for medical cannabis with the global market expected to reach $54.34 billion by 2029, and the size of the medical cannabis market in Europe is expected to reach $17.6 billion by 2029.
With a population of more than 746 million people in Europe, there is obviously a great number of potential patients who could benefit from using medical cannabis instead of using very addictive opioids to treat a number of conditions. In 2022 alone the industry is expecting that more than 340,000 patients will be treated with medical cannabis and that number will continue to rise.
In Germany, the cost of medical cannabis is being covered on equal footing with traditional medication. I hope that the other European countries such as the UK adopt a similar model where the NHS would cover the costs completely. I truly believe that the patient should not be responsible for the cost of their medication.
For the NHS in the UK and other European countries to make this policy shift, it is imperative that we continue to do research and collect data on the patients being treated with medical cannabis to showcase the efficacy and success doctors and patients are seeing with medical cannabis. Recently, we opened our first specialist medical cannabis clinic in Europe, Zerenia™ Clinics UK, which is based in London and will be crucial in collecting data from actual patients.
Our most recent study indicates that controlled inhalation of pharmaceutical grade, THC-predominant cannabis flos is associated with a significant improvement in patient-reported pain scores, mood, anxiety, sleep disturbances and overall quality of life. This study is one of its kind as it was carried out exclusively in Europe (UK) and explicitly refers to patients with different indications who inhale the flower product KHIRON 20/1, which is very popular in Germany and the UK.
We need to utilize that real-world evidence and combine it with medical training for healthcare professionals. The goal should be to create an environment where prescribers can learn about cannabinoid-based medicines and become knowledgeable prescribers.
I want to conclude by emphasizing that medical cannabis truly can improve the lives of patients. For example, we have patients like Kayleigh Compston, a mother of five children who was the first official cannabis patient in Scotland in 2020 receiving treatment for a serious health condition, or Charlotte Finn, a young mother from England, who is using medical cannabis to treat her fibromyalgia. These are real-life people who have experienced the benefit of this natural plant and the focus should be on improving life quality for all European patients.
At the end of the day, patient satisfaction and prescriber trust translates naturally to economic success for the European cannabis industry.