Seven years ago, I made the move from Israel to work in New York – the other Promised Land – and after completing my contract at the Israeli consulate in a business development role, I was keen to further develop elements of it in a private capacity, creating partnerships between Israel and the US.
When looking at the burgeoning cannabis market, I found it most remarkable that here in the US, the industry is built on a profound lack of knowledge whereas in Israel, we've been researching the plant for over fifty years and leveraging an established ecosystem of hospitals, universities and patients for over a decade. I saw this as a tremendous opportunity utilize my Israeli connections in biotech and agtech to advance the medical cannabis space across the US, the sector I feel more passionate about as opposed to recreational.
During the last four years, ESEV has established itself as a one-of-a-kind clinical research organization dedicated to cannabis with an office in New York and R&D operations in Israel, working in collaboration with leading experts across Hadassah Medical Center, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, the Technion and the Volcani Institute, connecting the industry, technologies and crossing cultural barriers. It is interesting to observe the attitudes towards research over this period. At the outset, the majority of US cannabis companies didn't understand the need for research though as the market has grown, they recognise the value of testing the efficacy of their products to create a competitive advantage over other suppliers. Plus, a growing number of patients want reassurance their products are not in any way harmful, especially if prescribed to children.
At the moment, we’re implementing clinical trials to explore the effects of CBD as a treatment for people with severe depression that could provide a major breakthrough for them. Anti-depressants can often cause a wide range of unpleasant side effects including nausea, increased appetite and weight gain, loss of sexual desire, blurred vision, fatigue and constipation whereas those resulting from CBD are minimal, if at all. We’re also conducting bioavailability studies on a CBD product to inform the supplier how much of the active compound is absorbed into the bloodstream and how long it stays in the body. Knowing the bioavailability of a drug is key to administering dosage and our unique work in this space will help establish the foundations of Cannabis 2.0.
The industry here in the US is definitely becoming more mainstream as the vertical grows to offer its own dedicated supplies, from software and point-of-sale solutions to VC funds. Alongside this, corporates are now starting to test the waters and the industry is catching the attention of more conservative investors. The US medical cannabis market is now at the point of no return and the greater the number of solutions back up by medical research and science will help stabilize and solidify the sector. CBD products, those based on the non-psychoactive compound, are gaining ground much faster than those centred on THC, primarily due to the vast amount of indications it is known to treat.
I believe the recreational market in the US is more volatile and will change considerably over the coming years. Eventually, a handful of consumer goods corporates will control the market with small, boutique-type players offering more niche or high-end products and services, replicating the wine industry with its upmarket liquor stores and small-scale vineyards.
Alongside the recreational and medical sectors, a market for cannabis-based wellness products or nutraceuticals is also starting to emerge and this will grow considerably as the plant is ideally positioned alongside the likes of Echinacea, Omega 3, ginseng and other alternative health products.
Leading European countries are either already or seeking to legalize cannabis will propel the market for cannabis-derived pharmaceutical drugs. African countries are looking to mass-produce the plant, potentially driving down production costs globally. Alas, the government’s about turn on export in my home country is unlikely to be revoked any time soon though its unique R&D capabilities, relaxed state laws and start-up mentality will drive commercialization in other countries while establishing itself as the global leader in cannabis research.
Until the US reschedules cannabis, the worldwide market will remain limited and even when this does happen, import will be extremely difficult due to FDA regulations on other drugs. During the next 3-7 years, expect only a handful of FDA-approved orphan cannabis-based drugs.