President of cannabis campaign group CLEAR UK, Peter Reynolds, has seen the highs and lows of cannabis campaigning and reform in the UK. He tells Cannabis Wealth about his cannabis journey over the last 30 years.
Born in Newport in 1957, Reynolds is an expert in the science, medicine, law and politics of cannabis, and has been an avid advocate of cannabis policy reform in the UK. As the president of the UK campaign group Cannabis Law Reform UK (CLEAR UK), he has stood in elections when the organisation was a political party and has participated in every inquiry into drug reform in the country since 1983.
Today, Reynolds works in the industry helping cannabis companies navigate the industry landscape.
“I was a cannabis consumer from the age of 14. I have always been an opinionated sort of person and I quickly got outraged at the fact that the law was trying to interfere with what I saw as my right to put what I wanted in my own body. It was clearly not as harmful as alcohol or some other things. So, I went on a march when I was probably about 20 when I was writing in newspapers. Then eventually, the first big first significant thing I did was in 1983. I learned that the Home Affairs Committee was doing an inquiry into dangerous drugs. One of the things it was going to consider was whether or not the cultivation of cannabis should be legalised.
“So, I sat down and wrote a paper on this, which I called ‘An Unaffordable Prejudice’. If you read it now, it is uncanny how little most of the arguments have changed. The only real difference is that we have a lot more scientific backing now.”
Reynolds submitted the paper and, to his surprise, was called to the Houses of Parliament to give evidence.
“That really was the beginning, and ever since then I have contributed to every inquiry that has been held into cannabis.”
After a stint as a salesman, Reynolds found himself pivoting into copywriting and the advertising industry. Towards the end of the 80s, healthcare became Reynold’s expertise, providing work for pharmaceutical companies.
“This was when there was talk about the reform of the NHS. So, I became quite an expert on healthcare and pharmaceuticals, and obviously, that had a relationship to my personal interest in cannabis. I eventually became the editor of a magazine for doctors in London called Capital Doctor. I was writing a lot of quite highly technical medical work, even ghostwriting some medical papers.
“More and more papers were coming across my desk about the scientific investigation into the endocannabinoid system. It became clear that all these things that we regarded as mythology about cannabis helping people with health problems had some scientific basis, and so, that’s where my attention was really gripped.”
Fast-forward to the 2000s, and Reynolds became more actively involved in the campaign for cannabis reform. After discovering the Legalise Cannabis Alliance was actively campaigning – Reynolds got involved and was quickly elected as leader.
“I wanted to get things organised, and develop our messages in a professional way. We put together a programme for a new identity – a new name, which was Cannabis Law Reform, and that was just around the time when Facebook started. We went from nothing to three-quarters of a million followers on Facebook in 18 months and the campaign progressed in many ways.
“About five or six years ago, it got to the point where I realised I was actually making most of my money legitimately in cannabis. Most of it was CBD in those days, we were very involved right in the beginning when people hadn’t even heard of CBD.
“I’ve always thought that the only sustainable route to legalisation is commercialisation. And we have seen that already. I mean, that is why cannabis has been legalised in the States. That is why the industry is progressing. I know if you smoke cannabis, you are supposed to be about freeing the weed and “Power to the people” – but of course, that is all nonsense, and I have thought commercialisation is the way to go. Putting aside all the fighting and arguing – because politicians are politicians – the only thing that is eventually going to swing it in this country is money.
“When I first became leader of CLEAR, my approach was radically different. Instead of marching down the street with a banner, I decided that we had to get some research. So, we commissioned the independent drug monitoring units, which have done work for the Home Office themselves, to produce a report for taxing the UK cannabis markets. It is still the most comprehensive analysis of a UK cannabis market, as, since then, the Government has stopped collecting data and the sources just don’t exist to do it again.
“We showed essentially that there were about three million regular cannabis consumers in the UK, and that has been borne out by the latest YouGov survey done only a year or two ago showing 1.4 million. So, if you legalise and tax cannabis, it will produce a net gain on average of about £6.7bn. There have been other studies that have come out since with much lower figures, but generally speaking, they have approached it in a completely different way. Their figures have been based on VAT and income tax from people working in the industry. We based it on the same model as what existed in the US, where you actually have a cannabis tax.
“It is definitely a multibillion-pound game – it is a lot of money. The only source of information out there in the UK is the British crime survey and it relies on people admitting they are committing a crime, so clearly, it is always going to be an underestimate.”
Since the advent of CLEAR there has been an explosion in organisations campaigning for cannabis reform, and since legalisation of medical cannabis in the UK in 2018 there are now medical organisations campaigning for better access to medical cannabis for patients.
“A tremendous amount of progress has been made. We now have a cannabis industry. We still have huge problems with the Home Office. A large proportion of MPs still base opinions on the same evidence that has been around since the 1930s. It is still based on prejudice and misinformation generally, but that is changing, and money is doing a lot to change that.
“That is the main factor that is going to drive this is the industry – the awareness and insight into how ridiculous current drug policy is really does span all sections of society. People like Boris Johnson, it seems to me, are missing a golden opportunity.
“In a few years from now, we will have a cannabis industry and simply the availability of it, medicinally, will also influence doctors – the fact that cannabis is now being produced here. I think that, in the end, that will have much more of an impact on actually achieving what we want to achieve than any demo outside the Houses of Parliament.
“I am still a campaigner, but I am doing it in a more indirect way. I think, a more effective way.
“I think something that a lot of people don’t understand is that the UK now has the most progressive and flexible system for prescribing cannabis anywhere in the world – there is nowhere else in the world where the doctors can prescribe cannabis in any form for any condition. I acknowledge, obviously, that the problem we have got is that NHS doctors aren’t prescribing. However, we have thousands of patients who have been prescribed by private clinics and I think that will continue to grow, particularly with prices going down.
“And then, of course, the big factor will be whether or not Biden sticks to the promise to decriminalise federally. I think they probably will. I think that will put enormous pressure on the UK, particularly, as well, what is happening in Luxembourg, for example.
“I think decriminalisation is a dangerous halfway measure because, to me, the biggest problem about the criminal cannabis market is the fact that it is run by gangs and I do think it is what’s driving knife crime. And it is also what drives county lines – because the cannabis market is worth a lot more than all the rest of the drug markets put together.
“We run a campaign based on articles which says that the Government is on the same side as the gangs, and it is. Boris Johnson must understand this – he is not stupid.”
Oli White: from YouTube star to CBD entrepreneur
In his decade-long career in YouTube, Oli White has racked up half a billion views and more than 4 million subscribers.
Cannabis Wealth caught up with the YouTuber-turned-entrepreneur to hear about his journey and how the anxiety that came with fame led him to discover CBD.
Oli White found his fame as one of YouTube’s first major stars. Since he started uploading videos as a teenager he’s racked up over half a billion views and more than 4 million subscribers across his three channels.
A decade-long career in YouTube
“I was a pretty nerdy, geeky kid,” Oli said over Zoom. “I loved editing, filming on cameras, special effects. One day, I just started making videos and got the courage to put my face on camera.”
This was 2012. YouTube was still in its infancy and the platform’s very first vloggers were only just beginning to gain significant recognition.
“This was a period when YouTube was so new,” Oli said. “People weren’t spending a million pounds on a challenge; you’d just sit there and talk about a subject or work on a little skit. To get a million views or even 100,000 views back then was the biggest amount of views the platform had seen.
“You couldn’t earn money off of YouTube either. Brands wouldn’t advertise with YouTube and there were no brand deals or anything like that.”
After a couple of years, Oli’s channel started to explode. He soon found himself part of a community of fellow YouTubers, namely Caspar Lee and Joe Sugg, who would become huge stars in their own right.
Before he knew it, Oli was jetting from continent to continent, meeting fans from across the world. In the space of just three years, he went from a creative teenager making videos in his bedroom to an international star with over a million subscribers.
“It was one of the most surreal things in my life,” Oli said. “I remember going to the Philippines and at the airport, we had hundreds and hundreds of people there, including TV crews and paparazzi. We did a stage show with thousands of people in the audience. It was crazy.
“I’m so grateful for the travelling I’ve been able to do, the people I’ve been able to meet and the brands I’ve been able to work for. I’ve worked with some of the biggest brands in the world and that’s all because of these little videos in my room.”
Youtube isn’t what it used to be. The platform has grown exponentially over the past decade. According to analytics company Socialblade, there are now more than 51 million active channels. Around 22,000 of these have over a million subscribers.
The oversaturated nature of the market has led Oli to different outlets, notably TikTok which he says offers a more rewarding way to promote and discover content.
Several years into Oli’s YouTube career, the impact of his astronomical rise to fame started to catch up with him.
“When I was 18 and we were doing events and there were loads of people there, I was fine. I still felt like a kid,” he said. “But as I was getting into my 20s, I started developing a lot of anxiety around meeting people and going to events where there were loads of people.
“It then just stopped me from doing things. I would say to myself, ‘I don’t really like doing that’, but it was actually my anxiety saying, ‘no, you can’t do that’.
“I think it just grew on me,” he continued. “I’d go to a red carpet [event] and I’d worry about no one knowing me and ‘what if this happens’ or ‘what if that happens’. I just ended up in with my thoughts. I knew that I was dealing with a lot of anxiety but I just pushed it to the side.”
It was Oli’s Mum who recommended he try CBD. Years earlier she had been diagnosed with cancer which she later overcame. CBD helped her manage the crippling anxiety she experienced going through treatments.
At the time, the UK’s CBD industry was young and underdeveloped, so Oli and his partner Evie headed to the US to sample a few products. “We tried some CBD and it was just amazing,” Oli said. “My anxiety was completely relaxed and I just thought ‘wow, this is incredible’.”
On his return to the UK, Oli ordered himself and Evie a pack of what he thought were CDB capsules but the feeling of calm he experienced in the US never materialised. After a couple of weeks of research, he realised he had in fact been sold hemp seed oil which contains zero CBD.
“As we researched the industry more, we realised that there was such a lack of information, transparency and professionalism,” Oli said. “It has definitely got better with companies publishing third-party lab results but that’s something that I’ve only seen a lot more of in the last year.
“Having lab reports is like a selling factor for CBD, but it should be absolute general practice. It just shows how new the industry is. I can’t wait until there’s more clarity within the space. I think that’s what we need to really move forwards.”
The beginning of Unique CBD
Over the past several years, Oli has increasingly turned his attention to the world of CBD, teaming up with his partner Evie – who is also an influencer – to form a business wholly separate from his media personality.
At first, Oli and Evie simply wanted to create a product they could trust for their own personal use. The couple started educating themselves on the CBD space before connecting with a neuroscientist who they collaborated with to create a high-quality product that achieved the same results they experienced in the US.
“For a year, if not longer, we started intensively educating ourselves on the space and the different companies on the market,” Oli said. “We collaborated with a neuroscientist and worked with him on an oil and we started trialling it.
“We then ordered a bit more and started giving it to friends and family.”
The pair soon realised that others could benefit from the products they had spent the past year developing, so in August 2020, they launched their own company, Unique CBD.
“Our mission always was, and still is, is to create premium, trustworthy and transparent products”, he added. “We created and have some incredible products that I’m just so proud of.”
Growing the business
Unique CBD grew organically over the next two years. The couple started by launching day drops before developing higher strength night drops. They later branched out into skincare following the introduction of Novel Food applications which prevented them from releasing other ingestible products.
While the UK CBD industry continues to experience teething problems, the young company’s focus is on building an “amazing foundation”, honing its products and brand before potentially seeking out funding later down the line.
All of Unique CBD’s products are made from isolate extract and produced independently. Rather than working with a manufacturer, each product is made in-house and owned by the company.
“We don’t work with a manufacturer that creates the same oils for multiple other companies. Every single product that we create is completely customised to us,” Oli said. “Everything is carefully considered and created by us which is something that a lot of CBD brands don’t tend to do because it costs a lot of money.
“We don’t want to be ‘that influencer’s CBD brand’”
While Oli has by no means left his career in entertainment behind, his priority now is Unique CBD. “For the most part, we’re solely focusing on the company because this industry is ready to grow fast and we want to really make sure that we’re there at the forefront and we’ve got the company prepared when things take off,” he said.
It would have been easy for Oli to capitalise on his massive personal following to push the brand, but instead, he initially chose to stay quiet about his new venture due to fears that attaching himself to the brand could taint its reputation.
“In the first year and a half of us launching, we didn’t really talk about the brand at all,” he said. “We didn’t want it to be ‘that influencer’s CBD brand’. Sometimes those kinds of reputations can be quite damaging so in the early stages of the company we very much stepped to the side.”
While they have avoided attaching their faces to the brand, the pair have drawn from their careers as influencers to shape their marketing strategy. As Instagram and Facebook continue to prevent CBD companies from advertising through the platforms, Unique CBD has focused their efforts on TikTok and YouTube.
“With my background, we produce all of the content, from the imagery of our products to content on TikTok and YouTube,” Oli continued. “For me personally, education is a really important thing in this space. With our TikTok videos, we’re creating educational pieces of content surrounding CBD, but we also try and add a bit of a health and wellness factor to that as well.”
Unique CBD continues to develop new products, with two new face serums in the pipeline.
“There are so many products that we want to work on,” Oli added. “It’s expensive and it takes a long time to develop them right but there’s so much more we want to do.”
Broughton expands experience from nicotine into cannabinoids
Broughton CEO Chris Allen spoke to Cannabis Wealth about the company’s ambitions to support safe and effective cannabinoid delivery.
UK-based Broughton Group is leveraging its extensive experience in nicotine replacement therapies and analytical testing to support the development of cannabinoid delivery devices.
Established in 2006, contract research organisation Broughton is working to develop its position as a full-service solutions provider to the global life sciences sector. With extensive experience in next-generation nicotine delivery products, the company succeeded in developing one of the first devices approved for nicotine replacement therapy.
Broughton’s services cover product development, scientific and regulatory consultancy and laboratory services across the pharmaceutical, nicotine and cannabinoid industries.
Its nicotine product experience covers electronic nicotine delivery systems, modern oral nicotine pouches, heated tobacco products (HTPs), nicotine replacement therapy and synthetic nicotine. The company has been applying its knowledge to the cannabis device market, which is expected to reach US$26.52bn (~£22.41bn) by 2031, according to Transparency Market Research.
Broughton CEO, Chris Allen, who has been working in the medical device industry for 25 years, shared the company’s journey from its inception to its move into cannabinoids, where it will apply its knowledge of regulations to develop safe and effective devices.
The journey into cannabinoids
Chemistry graduate Allen has been heavily involved in analytical and regulatory science throughout his career. Early on, he worked in respiratory medicines at Melbourne Scientific, now part of Intertek, where he began working on drug registration programmes through inhalation.
After moving location, Allen began working at a company that focused on animal feed testing, where he met Broughton co-founder Paul Moran. The pair succeeded in obtaining GMP accreditation for the company’s testing facility and within two years, doubled the turnover of the business.
In 2006, Allen and Moran decided to establish Broughton together, beginning the business by focusing on animal health products. By 2011 Broughton moved into nicotine replacement therapies and supported the securement of the first licensed medicinal product for electronic cigarettes.
This move led Broughton into different regulations for tobacco harm reduction products, where the company saw the most significant growth.
Allen commented: “Broughton has the ability to be able to interpret different regulations from around the world and bring that sound science and pragmatic view to adhering to those regulations.
“The heartbeat of the businesses is analytical testing, but being able to complement that with the consultancy business. So, bringing in project managers, toxicologists, scientific consultants, clinical experience and behavioural experience – to be able to provide that full package – it was always more than just data for us.
“It’s about what that data actually means – what are you trying to prove, and therefore, how do we design the study? When you get the data – what should you be doing next?
“It’s about the ability to start looking at how we can apply those services, those learnings, into other markets, and that has now brought into the cannabis industry.”
Safe and effective cannabinoid delivery
Broughton has spent the last two years unpicking the right markets to work in from a global perspective. With a growing customer base in North America, the business is establishing a US Subsidiary with the aim of building its presence in the region.
Allen commented: “Going into the US is very state by state at the moment if you’re not in recreational. So, our real focus now is inhalation because we have a lot of the consultants here, myself included, and a lot of the analytical facilities focused on inhalation products.
“That’s been through the electronic cigarettes but also inhaled pharmaceuticals. Looking at cannabinoids, the historical way of consuming those has been through inhalation.
“We always look for the safest way to deliver drugs – the most effective way – but the safest possible way as well. And that’s always avoiding combustion. So, as we look to inhalation products.
“We look at how we can work with companies to design the right products, demonstrate the right level of safety from an efficacy perspective, but also from a perception and behavioural.”
In this regard, Allen notes that a lot of nicotine replacement therapies do not work because they do not mimic the action of smoking and this same principle applies to the consumption of cannabinoids.
Broughton has also been looking heavily at the UK’s Novel Foods process which has raised a lot of confusion in the industry. Allen says, the company has seen many businesses making mistakes with Novel Foods. Allen highlights that the cannabis industry is fragmented from a regulatory perspective, which is no different from the nicotine industry that has very localised regulations.
“We have been looking at those regulations – what’s right about them, what’s wrong, how to apply them, and how to go and support companies through that process,” said Allen.
Allen emphasises that the cannabinoid industry can learn a lot from the nicotine industry, which, in the early days of nicotine vaporisers saw many products focused on flavours and branding, fuelling a negative perception of the products.
“Don’t make ridiculous claims about cannabinoids – you have to be able to back those up,” said Allen. “If companies start to work from day one responsibly, it’s only going to help the industry. Self-regulate as much as possible.”
Broughton is launching its cannabinoids services, where it is looking to help those companies that have been let down by providers.
“It is about bringing a degree of pragmatism, sound science, good consultancy, and applying the right studies to support those companies that are looking to take products through the Novel Foods process,” said Allen.
“We’re hearing some horrendous stories coming out of poorly thought out studies and poor quality testing that’s been conducted.
“It is about bringing our experience into this industry to try and bring control, and also to try and change public perception as well. The commonality of a lot of the products that we’re starting to look at is actives that potentially have been around for a very long time, but the perception isn’t right.
“They have a lot of therapeutic benefits, but they also have a stigma attached to them. It’s a passion point of the company to see what new products can we help bring to market and change that public and healthcare perception of some of these drugs.”
Growing pains: fresh challenges for the UK’s CBD industry
The regulatory hurdles are many, but the potential UK market – thought to be the largest untapped market in Europe – is significant.
David Hardstaff and John Binns of BCL Solicitors LLP discuss the regulatory landscape in the UK following the EFSA’s decision to pause all novel foods evaluations for CBD products.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has dealt a blow to the European and UK CBD industries, identifying several hazards related to CBD intake and pointing out deficiencies in both the experimental animal and human research data.
However, its findings primarily highlight a lack of sufficient evidence needed to fully assess the safety of CBD as a food. Whilst the findings are not binding on UK regulators, the beleaguered UK CBD industry must now brace itself for its inevitable fallout.
An industry under fire
Although no longer a member of the EU, the UK continues to align with its Novel Food Regulation; and so, whilst not determinative, the findings of the EFSA are likely to concern UK regulators grappling with the CBD issue.
UK-based CBD companies had already been feeling bruised prior to the release of the EFSA’s statement. From operating within a light-touch regulatory regime, founded on the belief that CBD products were no different to any other readily available food supplement, the closing drawbridge that was the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) novel food application process has been a shock to the industry’s system.
The process, which required non-medicinal CBD products to be the subject of an application for authorisation, has caused a stir within UK CBD businesses and exposed brands’ reliance on white label goods. This has left many querying the real value behind some of the celebrity-endorsed brands vying for a piece of the UK’s CBD landscape.
The longer-term consequences are unclear.
When announcing the publication of its list of products which have submitted a valid novel food application, the FSA confirmed the role of enforcement authorities and that it had recommended to local authorities that any products not on the list should be withdrawn from the market. Such products would be deemed ‘unsuitable for progressing to authorisation’, or in other words, unsellable.
This was prior to the EFSA’s statement, which will clearly not aid the industry’s plight. The FSA will publish its full list of pending novel food applications this month.
The position of the EFSA
Although the EFSA has not commissioned its own research, its statement points to existing animal and human studies which have been conducted to identify safety concerns linked to CBD. In considering the safety of food products, the same cost-benefit analysis used when assessing the safety versus efficacy of medicines doesn’t apply. Put simply, adverse effects from food consumption are not tolerated, regardless of other perceived benefits. The bar to find grounds for caution in the regulation of CBD as a foodstuff is therefore a low one.
The EFSA statement refers to its finding ‘clear evidence’ for liver toxicity of CBD, demonstrated by liver hypertrophy in laboratory animals and increases in liver enzymes in experimental animal and human studies. Data gaps are identified in relation to other areas of concern, including on gastrointestinal tract, endocrine system, nervous system and on psychological function.
The statement recognises that most of the existing human data emanates from studies into the efficacy of the CBD-based medicine Epidyolex at therapeutic doses. The limitations of such studies in the context of assessing CBD as a food are clear.
As one door closes, another opens?
Although bad news for CBD products marketed as foodstuffs, the EFSA’s statement and novel food considerations shouldn’t impact on the availability of CBD products as medicines, which are separately regulated.
Outside of pharmaceuticals, one of the largest and arguably sustainable CBD customer bases have been consumers with some sort of health or therapeutic need, for which they are unable to access medicinal cannabis.
One potential consequence of the drive to rein in the UK’s CBD industry is reduced access to the previously available wide range of products. In recent times, it has been difficult to find a high street or retail centre between John o’ Groats and Land’s End without CBD products for sale. That position could dramatically change, shifting some products into, and prompting changes to, the medicinal CBD space.
Cannabis-based products for medicinal use, or CBPMs, have been available for prescription in the UK since 2018; however, access is strictly limited through existing and bespoke regulatory controls. In addition to the regulatory barriers to access, funding has long been cited as a problem, with limited patient access through the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). On drilling down into the issue, a lack of UK-based research as to the efficacy of CBPMs is the starting point.
Several laudable initiatives have sought to plug the research gap, including Project Twenty21, the UK’s largest observational medicinal cannabis study. However, observational studies have their limitations, which is why most have recently welcomed with open arms the UK Health Research Authority-approved trial, Canpain.
Canpain is planned to run for three years and aims to conduct clinical trials involving up to 5,000 patients suffering from chronic pain. The trial will be the first of its kind in the UK and could be significant in opening access to CBPMs for the UK’s estimated 1.4 million patients currently accessing cannabis through the illicit market.
As highlighted by the EFSA statement, reliable data on the number of CBD consumers with some sort of therapeutic need is patchy, but as access to CBD products becomes more limited through enforcement of the novel food regime, access to CBD-based medicines could provide an important lifeline.
This could also present opportunities for the CBD industry, which until now has seen a benefit in its separation from the medicinal market. The industry must ask itself whether it is now time to explore the jump from consumer products to medicines.
Can a more agile CBD industry flourish and better serve patients?
No one would suggest that the development and marketing of a new medicinal product is a straightforward task. Although CBD is not a controlled drug in the UK, the position of the UK Home Office remains that it is difficult to produce CBD without any trace element of THC, which is controlled.
Consequently, it is usually necessary to begin the process of developing a CBD-based medicine with an application to the Home Office for a Schedule 1 controlled drug licence for research purposes. Further licences are likely to be necessary throughout the development process, including a Schedule 2 controlled drug licence for operating with CBPMs, as well as Manufacturers (Specials) and Distributors licences from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
The regulatory hurdles are many, but the potential UK market – thought to be the largest untapped market in Europe – is significant.
Turning to the development of CBD-based medicines could represent a lucrative opportunity for some of the brands which have until now limited their reach to what might be described as the lifestyle market. That may not explain or justify the EFSA and FSA’s stance, and nor does it remove the urgent need to liberalise access to CBPMs in the UK.
But for consumers with a therapeutic need, a more agile CBD industry, equipped to cross the barrier between the medicinal and non-medicinal worlds, would unquestionably be a good thing.