The East Anglian firms thriving in the growing market for legal cannabis products
- Credit: Archant
With the increasing liberalisation of cannabis laws gathering pace around the world, a company in Essex is keen to take advantage of the opportunities.
You might expect the directors of a company importing large amounts of cannabis into the UK to fit the stereotype of shifty gangsters, or bleary-eyed hippies.
But Tim Acton and Gregory Land, two of the co-founders of an East Anglian company that makes products using legal strains of cannabis, are nothing of the sort.
In fact their company, Canna CBD, is at the forefront of an emerging industry which they claim is poised to explode into the mainstream.
High-profile cases of sufferers who rely on cannabis for its health properties have brought products to the attention of policy-makers.
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And the speed of legislative changes have created potential opportunities for manufacturers to unlock a previously illegal market.
In order to keep within the current law, the cannabinoids (hemp compounds) that the likes of Canna CBD work with must contain no more than 0.2% of the psychoactive element THC, which has medical applications but is also associated with anxiety and paranoia.
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“The market is expanding at breakneck speed,” said Mr Land. “In the food supplement industry, there are now hundreds of different brands.”
It is not just in the UK but across the globe that companies are now capitalising on the growing legalisation of cannabis.
Corona beer owner Constellation Brands has just announced it is pouring $4bn into Canada’s top cannabis producer, Canopy Growth, in a deal marking the largest investment in the industry to date. Last year, Constellation injected $200m into Canopy to produce a cannabis-based drink.
Two months ago, Essex’s own Canna CBD started producing CBD syringes that release a health supplement paste containing cannabis mixed with organic honey. Other products in its range include cosmetics and an aptly-named “joint cream” to alleviate joint inflammation.
The company markets its cannabis oil and syringes as a health supplement rather than medication “in the same way that people eat vitamin C or take echinachea”, claimed Mr Land.
But its most popular product to date are its vape kits.
“The vape industry has gone from strength to strength over the last few years with it recently being endorsed by the NHS as a legitimate smoking alternative,” said Mr Land.
“We focused our research into developing a vape liquid that has real benefits and not just a pleasant flavour.”
Canna CBD was founded two years ago by Flemming Bo Sorenson, a Dane who lives in Thailand, along with Mr Acton, a hotelier who recently returned to Wrabness after helping to save 12 Thai boys and their football coach from a cave, and Mr Land, a 24-year-old from Little Oakley who has a background in producing ethnic foods for supermarket chains.
Canna CBD’s products are primarily bought by businesses who sell them on with their own branding.
“We’re working closely with about 50 companies, mainly small start-ups like Lakeland CBD who launched about six weeks ago and are having rapid success with the Cumbrian market,” said Mr Acton.
“We’ve found that as the industry is growing rapidly, we are in a position where we can help the smaller companies just coming on to the market.”
From its Wrabness farm on a hill with a sweeping view over Alton Water, Canna CBD boasts Essex’s first (legal) cannabis laboratory, where it is currently experimenting with creating hemp gummy-bear supplements.
“Our laboratory is perfectly placed to produce products for not just the UK market, but Europe, the Americas and Asia,” said Mr Sorenson.
Canna CBD has also applied for planning permission for a nine-bedroom events centre in Wrabness, which Mr Acton describes as “an education centre built on sustainable living.”
While Canna CBD’s hemp is harvested in Spain, there are growers closer to home. Alongside British Sugar’s factory in Wissington in Norfolk, cannabis is legally cultivated in a giant 18-hectare greenhouse – the size of 23 football pitches – and used in medication which is exported across the world.
It is used to make Epidiolex, an experimental treatment for severe forms of childhood epilepsy and Sativex, an anti-spasticity drug, for GW Pharmaceuticals.
The medicine, a highly-purified, pharmaceutical cannabidiol oral solution (CBD), has recently been approved as the first cannabis-derived medicine by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is currently under regulatory review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
This cannabidiol oral solution has been studied extensively in the largest clinical trial programme ever conducted for the rare epilepsies Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome, with trials completed at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London among other hospitals.
The conflict between the UK’s growing cannabis industry and the law
People have been using cannabis since prehistoric times, and Greek historian Herodotus refers to the central Eurasian Scythians taking cannabis steam baths.
The drug has been illegal in the UK since 1928, and its medical use was outlawed in 1971, but there is now increasing pressure on the British government to loosen the laws around cannabis, thereby enabling players in the UK’s burgeoning hemp industry to diversify their product offering.
In January, California opened the world’s largest legal marijuana market, and in October, Canada will legalise recreational marijuana in full. It is also decriminalised in Portugal and the Netherlands, and in numerous other countries the police are now turning a blind eye to public possession of the drug.
In the UK, high profile patients such four year old Indie-Rose Clarry from near Sudbury, who has severe epilepsy, have been permitted to take cannabis-derived medication recently, but it is not readily available on the NHS.
However, the UK is also the biggest exporter of cannabis-derived medicines in the world. In 2016, the UK produced 95 tons of legal herb and exported almost 68% of the world’s total medicinal weed.
Paul Kenward is the managing director of British Sugar, which is licensed to grow a non-psychoactive variety of cannabis in Norfolk which is used in children’s epilepsy medicine. Yet his wife, Victoria Atkins, is a Home Office minister and former criminal drugs prosecutor who has previously spoken out against both legalising and regulating the drug.
A co-founder of Wrabness-based hemp company Canna CBD, Gregory Land, is confident that the law in the UK will change soon, enabling him to start growing cannabis from a large field he has earmarked for that purpose in Wrabness. He said: “The American and Israeli cannabis market is moving very quickly ahead of us, due to their research into how different strains interact with each other. But at the moment, here in the UK we have to stick with strains we are allowed by EU to import.”
Mr Acton said the business is “very profitable” and operates stringently within the law. But the hemp industry “does attract a few con-men, and we try to stay as clean as possible,” he added.