Australia is “barely scratching the surface” of the nascent medicinal cannabis industry despite local doctors being reluctant to prescribe the new drug, says Little Green Pharma chief executive Fleta Solomon.
Solomon’s business produces the only Australian grown, harvested and manufactured medicinal cannabis product available on the market, but the founder tells SmartCompany doctors are still “cautious” to recommend cannabidiol to patients.
However, she believes this is set to improve over the coming years as more young medical students work their way into general practices.
“Until recently, medicinal cannabis was not part of the medical school curriculum and is only now being introduced. While we wait for the next generation of physicians to come through, education of the endocannabinoid system is key for existing medical professionals,” Solomon says.
“The public is very accepting of medicinal cannabis and have begun to assist physicians in their education.”
Little Green Pharma was established in late-2016, shortly after medicinal cannabis was legalised Down Under, and is a rarity in the industry as the company is still private, choosing to not list on the ASX as of yet.
Solomon has been chief executive officer of the business from the get-go, saying the goal of Little Green Pharma was to create a business and brand doctors would feel comfortable with.
Since launch, the company’s growth has been rapid, significantly increasing the size of its team over the last 12 months. Solomon says while she’s excited to see such a fast-growing industry, she notes some players in the market are making “claims which have not been matched with actions”.
“Little Green Pharma, until the last six months, kept a low profile. Our view was: tell people what we have done, rather than what we hope to do,” she says.
The company released its first products in August 2018: two cannabis oil products with different ratios of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinol (CBD), and is set to release more in the coming months.
Prescriptions picking up
Solomon says doctors have been cautious to prescribe THC and CBD to patients, but figures show the prescription rates are slowly increasing. It took 22 months for 1,500 applications to go through the Therapeutic Goods Association, and only three months for the next 1,500.
“There are two million Australians living with chronic pain. Add to this those with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and the other conditions where medicinal cannabis can play a role,” she says.
“Even if only 10% of them are suitable for cannabinoid therapy this means we are barely scratching the surface.”
Looking forward, Solomon refers to the “booming” overseas medicinal cannabis industry, where it is estimated about 2% of populations would benefit from access to the drug.
With Australia coming from a standing start, Solomon predicts considerable growth over the coming years, and says the future is bright.
“With Australia’s vision to become a premium provider of cannabis-based medicines, the export market will allow our Australian growing operations to expand bringing down the price of cannabinoid medicines for Australian patients,” she says.
“Ultimately we are about improving the lives of people in Australia and around the world and creating jobs.”