Following the complete legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada as of October 2018, the topic around the plants’ medicinal uses has been heavily debated around the world. European countries such as Germany has legalized medicinal cannabis while Denmark has chosen a more careful approach.
As of the 1st of January 2018, The Danish Medicine Agency launched a 4-year plan, allowing doctors across Denmark to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients. This has spiked a heated debate in Denmark regarding cannabis and it’s uses. Many have been celebrating the trial as they have been forced to buy illegal medicine to treat their illness, while many others have been condemning the Danish Medicine Agency for setting up a slippery slope, approving an illegal drug for medicinal purposes. Synapse has interviewed Thomas Skovlund Schnegelsberg, CEO of Stenocare A/S which is importing products from their Canadian partner CannTrust, and supplying patients in Denmark, while building their own facility in Jylland. Stenocare had their IPO the 26th of October as the first cannabis company in Denmark and EU on the Spotlight Stock Market in Stockholm.
What was your motivation for starting a company within medicinal cannabis, a heavily debated topic?
We were and are still inspired by people we met, hearing their stories of using medical cannabis. We have “personal relations” that could have benefitted from using medical cannabis – but it was not legalised at that time. They did not have the value of using medical cannabis. Many people were lacking treatment with less severe side effects. Experience with medicinal cannabis shows potential less negative side effects to some traditional medicine, meaning that medicinal cannabis could be the right treatment for these people. We have consulted with companies abroad on how we best grow cannabis for medicinal uses to supply patients with top quality products.
What is the vision of Stenocare both now and in the future?
Stenocare is right now selling imported products from our partner CannTrust in Canada, but we have a facility underway which will be up and running during 2019. The facility will be the most advanced in Denmark within the field, with complete parameter control of the growth in climate cells. This way we have complete control of the final product getting out to the patients and maintain the highest possible standard. While our competitors look towards Europe which is the bigger market, Stenocare wants to supply Denmark first. When that goal is completed, we can start to look outwards.
Do you see the political debate as an obstacle for Stenocare’s success?
Populism does not concern us and our brand. Many arguments in that debate spins around uncontrolled products bought on the black market, containing high amounts of THC, the psychoactive constituent of cannabis. That is not at all what we want to achieve with our products. Treatments are focused around controlled amounts and variability of cannabinoids and terpenes, without the negative effects. Denmark has set the highest standard in the world for growing cannabis, which allows us to make premium products of the highest quality.
What is your point of view on the lack of research and clinical trials with cannabis?
In my opinion, it is very important to have research and clinical trials. There are currently 10 projects underway in Denmark alone, and we should investigate more projects to obtain more evidence of the efficacy of treatment with medicinal cannabis. Due to UN listing cannabis as an illegal substance, claimed to be as addictive as morphine, it has resulted in a major setback in research. Pressure from patients has been responsible for the pilot trial. During these 4 years, doctors will gain the necessary experience and skills to prescribe medicinal cannabis safely, which will provide politicians and the Danish Medicine Agency data and research for making educated regulations and laws. In my opinion, our politicians have made a clever move not fully legalizing medicinal cannabis right away, but instead using 4 years as a buffer for future legislation.
Do you see a growing use of cannabis as treatments?
The list of patient groups given by the Danish Medical Agency is expected to expand, as other diseases such as epilepsy has seen a great response to medicinal cannabis. However, we don’t believe cannabis is right for everything.It is important to us is that the patient gets the right treatment, no matter what. Cannabis is not the right treatment for everyone and everything. We believe it should be an option for those, who up until now have had none. The international experience with medicinal cannabis is, that it shows less impactful side effects which we believe is a strength for many patients. In the end it is up to the practitioners and their willingness to see cannabis as a viable option for certain patients. We of course hope to see an increase over the years. Currently about 200 practitioners out of the 3500 we have in Denmark are prescribing cannabis.
Is it possible to personalize medicinal cannabis?
Not in the sense of genetic personalization. However, research is currently being done on, how the individual cannabinoids and terpenes treats different symptoms. It will be possible to tailor a product to a patient with unique needs, because the different cannabinoids and terpenes have unique effects in the body’s endocannabinoid system. In this manner medicinal cannabis can be personalized. What we have seen most positive results with are in fact with the less refined products – products based on the full spectrum of compounds in the cannabis plant. Medicinal cannabis benefits greatly from the “Entourage effect” of the many active substances in the plant.
The future for a medicinal cannabis market in Europe
Canadian companies such as CannTrust have invested heavily in establishing Denmark as a growing nation for medicinal cannabis. The tough regulations for both growth and final products are what attract the large investment. While Denmark is a small market compared to Germany, the 4-year trial gives a smooth start to what can be a brand-new industry. However, the success of this industry is not so much up to the companies. Enough patients need to be suited for the treatment, which depends on the general practitioners and the Danish Medical Agency. Having received no training on medicinal cannabis, general practitioners will have to educate themselves on the benefits and risks associated to this new type of prescribed medicine.