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Helius Therapeutics’ Paul Manning on five opportunities in New Zealand’s medical cannabis sector that haven’t been explored yet

1. Commercialisation

Right now, New Zealand’s cannabis sector is in start-up mode, but existing legislation limits our activities to research and development. This mean companies like Helius are investing to develop our facilities, import and breed plant chemovars (varieties), optimise our technologies, establish our products and prepare clinical trials to assess their effect on patient health. The first opportunity will be for companies to shift gears, moving from R&D and into commercialisation. This will allow producers to sell medicinal cannabis to patients in New Zealand, but also to begin exporting locally-made products to a $55 billion global market.

2. Fusing cannabis with local ingredients 

New Zealand is renowned for its world-class produce. From manuka honey to kiwifruit, our reputation for growing and exporting high quality, nutritious, natural products is second to none. We have an opportunity to explore the development medicinal cannabis preparations that bring together the best of New Zealand. For example, manuka honey-infused CBD soft gel capsules or kiwifruit enhanced functional beverages could make for highly-differentiated, value-added products, attractive to consumers around the world.

3. Specialised agri-tech

Cannabis is the most pharmacologically active plant in the world. There are many different ways to grow it. However, cultivating cannabis for medical purposes demands precision control. Pesticide drift, soil contaminants, unwanted pollination, pests, risk of diversion, environmental sensitivities and New Zealand’s famously inconsistent climate are all crucial factors that have led to controlled, indoor cultivation. Our agricultural sector is famed for its ingenuity and I believe we will see local businesses creating breakthroughs in cannabis cultivation and processing technologies, unlocking extraordinary value.

4. Cannabis-infused cosmetics

The cannabis cosmetics and beauty sector is already heating up in North America. There are over 500 active compounds in cannabis, including well over a hundred cannabinoids. I think we will see more Kiwi companies exploring the role of cannabis in beauty products, particularly to promote dermatological health. At Helius we’re working on a range of topical creams, including a product to help heal burns. I’d love to see some of our great Kiwi cosmetics, beauty and skin care brands take advantage of the exciting potential cannabis offers.

5. CBD-infused beverages

A few years ago, in California, every celebrity on MTV Cribs had their fridge lined with Fiji Water. Today it’s more likely to be CBD water. Selling for a cool $15 a bottle, cannabinoid-infused H20 delivers many of the functional health benefits of cannabis along with your daily dose of hydration. And it doesn’t stop at water – flavoured natural health drinks and supplements are already a multimillion-dollar industry in North America. Edibles and beverages present an exciting avenue for New Zealand businesses. This month, the Ministry of Health also amended regulations to allow hemp to be sold as food. Hemp can offer naturally-occurring CBD, so expect to see the first hemp-infused beverages and edibles sometime soon, with more therapeutically-active cannabis-based products to follow in coming years.

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