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Cannabis 3.0 – Health Products?

Now that more Cannabis 2.0 products are hitting the shelves, Health Canada is testing the waters around a new category: Cannabis Health Products (CHPs). This includes everything from skincare, to supplements, to topicals and more.

In a new report, Health Canada acknowledged Canadians’ interest in the potential for therapeutic uses of cannabis without the need for the oversight of a practitioner.

Over the summer, Health Canada held a public consultation on the potential market for CHPs and 1,104 consumers, industry representatives, and other interested parties gave their opinions, which Health Canada says will help to inform the potential regulatory path of CHPs.

What Consumers Want

Around 62% of participants in the survey identified themselves as consumers. When asked if they would be interested in purchasing a Health Canada-approved CHP meant for treating minor issues like muscle pain, a whopping 93% of consumers said that they were.

According to the report, consumers already view cannabis, particularly cannabidiol (CBD), as a natural remedy and several participants reported that they wanted more natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals. Many of the surveyed consumers use cannabis in this way and felt that they were getting health benefits from it as well as fewer side effects than they associated with pharmaceuticals and opioids.

Ailments to be Treated – 82% said that they were interested in multiple applications of CHPs, the most common ailments being pain and inflammation like muscle soreness, arthritis, headaches and migraines as well as mental health issues and sleep problems. Consumers also expressed interest in CHPs that help with gastrointestinal issues, skin problems like eczema and sensitive skin, muscle recovery, behavioural neurological disorders like autism, ADHD, and Parkinson’s, seizures, and side effects from cancer treatment. They are also interested in using CHPs for general health issues like promoting more energy or dealing with menopause.

Format – When it comes to format, 61% of consumers expressed a preference for a product they could take orally, and a further 41% said that they would prefer a topical application, particularly for issues that need more localized treatment like muscle and joint pain. Around 10% still prefer vaping or smoking their cannabis, while 23% weren’t fussy about the format, as long as it worked. Many consumers felt that the format and dose would depend on what is being treated, and 27% made sure to specify that it was CBD they were interested in, wanting to avoid the high of THC and have access to more CBD-only products for themselves as well as their pets.

Regulating CBD – Consumers also mentioned that they don’t believe that CBD should be regulated the same way as THC or other intoxicating substances like alcohol. They view CBD as safer and suggested that it be sold like other natural health products, or even over the counter so that the products could be more widely available and not sold only in licenced cannabis retail stores. Not only would this make CHPs easier to come by, it would also encourage new people to try them by chipping away at the stigma surrounding cannabis.

Packaging – On the same front, consumers suggested that Health Canada loosen up packaging regulations, allowing companies a bit more branding opportunities so that they can differentiate their products from their competitors.

Regulations – While the majority of consumers did see value in regulations and oversight by Health Canada, particularly surrounding safety and quality of CHPs, the group made it clear that these regulations should be fair, and they should help, rather than hinder, customer choice, access, and informed decision-making.

More Research – A good portion of respondents noted the need for more evidence-based information about CHPs on whether they work and if they are safe for everyone. Overall, though, consumers expressed a lot of positive interest in CBD-dominant CHPs for seniors, pets, those with chronic pain, or trouble sleeping.

What the Industry Wants

Industry professionals made up approximately 23% of those surveyed, coming from a variety of different industries. As you might guess, the natural health industry contributed 39% of the industry respondents, and 25% were from the cannabis industry. Other representatives were from the prescription and non-prescription drug industries and the veterinary health product industry.

Overall, around 78% of industry representatives said that they were interested in selling or manufacturing CHPs, mainly to promote access to safe, quality products that actually work, and to give consumers more choices, but they were also excited about the potential new market and revenue.

Format – Similar to consumers, industry respondents expressed a lot of interest in CBD products in easy-to-use formats for a variety of conditions, and some expressed interest in combining CBD with other plant-based ingredients.

Regulations – Generally, when it comes to regulations, industry professionals agree with consumers, but have a little bit more to say. While they concede that CHPs should be sold in places other than licenced cannabis retail stores, they also pointed out the benefits of having the products in a store with a health care provider, or at least specially trained staff that can offer advice and answer questions.

They also agreed that products with CBD should be regulated differently than products with THC, and suggested two distinct regulatory pathways, each with their own packaging and labelling restrictions, youth access, and retail environment.

Packaging – Around 50% of cannabis industry representatives said that current packaging regulations would present a challenge for them with CHPs, and expressed that it would be helpful to be able to differentiate themselves more with branding. Representatives from the Natural Health Product industry agreed, saying they would like to be able to use traditional evidence and make general health promotion claims if these products were to come to market.

More Research – Industry representatives also expressed concerns about evidence standards for CHPs. While some called for the need for more scientific evidence with strict standards, others claimed that such high standards might actually discourage research.

Who Else Has a Say?

The remaining 15% of respondents included participants from government organizations, healthcare or veterinary professionals, and researchers.

In this group, many suggested that the conversation of CHPs for humans and animals was premature, with 72% of them sharing safety concerns due to the lack of evidence. However, 69% still said that they saw the value of CHPs for certain populations. This group was mostly concerned about the potential negative side effects, especially for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, youth, or those with a mental illness.

Due to this lack of evidence, representatives from healthcare and veterinary care associations are being careful, and 44% said they would feel more comfortable with CHPs being sold in a place with a medical professional on hand for advice.

Governmental regulators felt much the same, encouraging the need for more evidence on safety and efficacy.

Cannabis 3.0?

Overall, interest in CHPs seems high. While the survey says that consumers are generally content with anecdotal evidence on the health benefits of cannabis, retailers and the medical community are looking for more information. Consumers get more curious about cannabis every day, and the more they learn the more they want to try.

Health Canada intends to create a committee in 2020 to gather more scientific evidence to help them develop safety, efficacy, and quality standards for over-the-counter CHPs.