Feburary 2019 | Sharon Webb
A TASMANIAN Alkaloids employee has confirmed the company is growing cannabis for medical use on its site at Westbury. The company’s director of agricultural research Les Baxter told Deloraine Rotary Club’s January meeting that the plants are grown indoors under Australia’s strict regulations with tight security.
He told the Rotarians 26 Australian companies are licensed to produce and cultivate cannabis in indoor facilities only, along with 20 manufacturing licenses. “In Tasmania at least four companies are cultivating and producing cannabis,” Mr Baxter said. “It’s harder to get a cannabis license than to manufacture opiates.
All staff are monitored; they can have no criminal record.” In 2016 Australia’s Parliament unanimously passed legislation permitting the production of cannabis for medicinal purposes, focussing on its use for childhood epilepsy, nausea in cancer and HIV patients and palliative care.
The Australian system is the most heavily regulated in the world, with both the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Office of Drug Control in charge. Three separate licenses are needed to grow, manufacture and research the substance and gaining them is a long process.
Mr Baxter said medicinal cannabis could also be used for pain management, particularly for multiple schlerosis and neuropathic pain. “The advantages are in using it to decrease nausea, increase appetite, manage chronic pain and to manage muscle spasms,” he said. “Its possible side effects are memory loss and schizophrenia.”
Commercial production of medicinal cannabis, closely related to the hop plant, is from the flowers of high yielding bushy plants about 60cm high. It grows from seeds or cuttings, cuttings being the preferred method of Australian producers.
Over 8-10 week cycles the plants, which Mr Baxter describes as “one of the world’s easiest plants to grow”, are cultivated in 16-18 hour days at 24C. They have a final 12 hours of darkness before the unopened flower buds are harvested, dried, trimmed and cured.
Tasmanian Alkaloids extracts oil from the flowers and puts it into capsules. Currently Australian companies can export only product, not flower buds; the product can only be used for four substances within pharmaceutical products.
“For Australian companies the potential for making money is in the international market, especially in complementary health products,” Mr Baxter said. “The current Australian market is only around 2000 people - and they must be buying their supplies overseas because Australia isn’t producing enough yet.”
Mr Baxter made it clear in his address to the Rotary Club that he was speaking from his own viewpoint and not on behalf of Tasmanian Alkaloids.