Inside the family farm turned cannabis lab in Somerset with hopes for future medicines – inews
A laboratory in rural Somerset is pioneering medical uses for the plant. Alys Key went to see the green shoots of a growth market
Wednesday, 1st January 2020, 8:13 pm
The road cuts in between sloping fields dotted with sheep (which I’m told are there as “free lawnmowers”) and leads to a large barn-like building. On the morning I arrive, there is a crisp winter mist hanging over the hills and surrounding villages.
“The genie is out of the lamp,” says George Thomas. It is his family farm which is now home to the company, and he himself is in charge of Goodbody Botanicals, Sativa’s product range. “It’s going to be very difficult to contain this industry.”
The group was already authorised to produce low-THC cannabis for its line of cannabidiol (CBD) products, but the latest development means it has been able to partner with King’s College London where researchers are investigating the impact of cannabinoids on inflammation and respiratory conditions.
It is hoped that the results will help to give cannabis-based medicines the push they need in the UK. One of the biggest steps was made in 2018, when the high-profile cases of young boys Alfie Dingley and Billy Cauldwell, who both suffered from epileptic fits, pushed a change in the law. Then home secretary Sajid Javid said doctors would be able to prescribe cannabis-based treatments to people suffering from certain conditions.
Medicinal cannabis may have been legalised, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to get
“We thought: great, the door was opening for medicinal cannabis. But that hasn’t happened. Although doctors and specialists doctors are able to prescribe the cannabis products, I think there’s only been about a dozen in the last 12 months.”
Inside the lab
When we go to see the cannabis plants, my first thought is: this is more like it. Inside the secure facility, we appear to be a long way from the idyllic farmland outside. The plants are kept in a code-protected, windowless room inside the lab. There is a long room with metal tables that I can view through glass from the corridor.
At the moment the plants are too young to go in here, so they live under a sunlight-imitating lamp in a small room. There are only a few of them, and at their small size they fit in a single trough. Could the future of the industry really rest on these tiny leaves?
It is certainly a start. The King’s study is one of a number happening all over the world and it could take years for all the evidence to be gathered. But Dr Horniman says whatever happens, it is vital this research takes place.
“It’s proven anecdotally that people say they take CBD products as an anti-inflammatory. But in order for a CBD product to have a medical claim, it has to be a medicine, and that involves efficacy and safety studies.
“I think the reason that we as a company and also the country sells so much CBD products, is that if it was a flash in the pan and had no benefit to anyone, we would have seen it rise and fall and it would be yesterday’s news. But people keep coming back for it.”
Other business areas
While they wait for the full possibilities of cannabis products to be realised, the company is making money from a number of other streams under current regulations. The lab, for example, is also used as a testing facility for other companies’ CBD products. In another room, products under the Goodbody Wellness label are being bottled up, ready to be shipped off to retailers.
As well as producing their own products, Sativa last year opened its first bricks-and-mortar shops under the Goodbody banner. The branches in Bristol, Bath and Cirencester sell everything from bath bombs and olive oil to coffee grounds, all infused with CBD.
Now the company is looking to expand that network by recruiting franchise owners, saying the chain could grow to as many as 100 high street stores dedicated to CBD wellness.
‘If it was a flash in the pan and had no benefit, we would have seen it rise and fall, but people keep coming back for it’
There are still many frustrating obstacles in the way for companies like Sativa. Mr Thomas says the small Home Office team assigned to dealing with licensing“don’t really have the resources, the infrastructure or the framework to really work to at the moment”.
He hopes that the bureaucracy will soon catch up with where the market is trying to go, especially once some other big issues stop absorbing government time. “Brexit, there is definitely no doubt, has held back what’s going on from a medicinal cannabis point of view.”
With other countries adopting new cannabis policies and the growing popularity of CBD in the UK, he is hopeful for the future.
“They [the Home Office] have quite quickly woken up to the fact that this is no longer an industry that can be swept under the carpet. It is moving fast and people want to progressively innovate around it and we’re really at the forefront of that.”
This article originally appeared here in https://inews.co.uk/news/business/sativa-headquarters-somerset-cannabis-lab-medicines-interview-1353203