The legal marijuana farm set to supply medical cannabis to the UK
Groundbreaking legislation that came into effect on November 1means that specialist UK doctors are now able to prescribe cannabis-based products, such as CBD oil, to patients.
London-based Dragonfly Biosciences Ltd has announced that it has secured a licence to create CBD oil, and will begin the production and distribution of medical cannabis early in 2019.
The firm produces the drug at huge open-air farms in Bulgaria.
The UK is already Dragonfly's biggest market for cannabidiol food supplements, made from the liquid extract of the plant, which are legal in the UK.
But it will now start producing medical products to sell to Clinical Commissioning Groups.
The company's grower in Bulgaria harvests their 420-hectare crop every September, producing around 232,000kg of plants - or six million units a year.
It then ships to its medicinal facility in Malta to produce CBD products.
Cannabis-based products can contain varying amounts of the compounds THC, which makes people feel "high", and CBD, another compound scientists are investigating for its potential medical benefits.
It is believed CBD can treat a variety of conditions including chronic pain.
Dr Gary Stephens, of the University of Reading, said: “There is still much research to do into CBD and how it affects us – it appears clear that the levels of endocannabinoids vary from person to person and resolving any deficiencies is likely to be beneficial.
"Thus, CBD may be used to boost our health and wellbeing, and may be particularly helpful for those struggling to relax and get a good night’s sleep. Anything we can do to support our body’s natural system in restoring correct balance is something I’d strongly recommend.”
Dragonfly will begin to approach Clinical Commissioning Groups from early next year, the firm said in a statement.
The European medical cannabis industry could be worth £20bn, according to research by Peterhouse Cambridge, and in the UK alone there are 80,000 specialists able to prescribe the drug, Dragonfly said.
The industry is still developing - the first investment vehicles for cannabis companies appeared on the London stock exchange in March. Sativa Investments PLCh raised £1.6m to invest in the Canadian producer Veritas Pharma Inc. and another British company, George Botanicals, which produces supplement CBD oils and pills.
But, surprisingly, the biggest player in UK Cannabis may be a sugar company.
British Sugar announced in 2016 it was turning its tomato greenhouses at Cornerways Nurseries in Wissington, Norfolk, to cannabis.
It supplies GW Pharmaceutical from its 18-hectare nursery to produce the drug Epidiolex, used to treat epilepsy in children.
The company became the first to supply a cannabis-based medicine in the US in October.
Medical cannabis has been approved in Germany, Poland, Portugal, Czech Republic, Malta, and now the UK.
The producers call CBD the "miracle substance" that doesn't get you high. It has no psychoactive effect and could be useful in treating conditions ranging from depression to diabetes. It has shown promise as an anti-inflammatory, anti-pain and anti-psychotic.
Most medicinal cannabis products contain next to none of the psychoactive compound THC, but one product, Sativex, which is a 50-50 mix of THC and CBD, has been approved as a treatment for multiple sclerosis.
There has been a rising number of countries legalising marijuana for personal use. So far the US state of California, Uruguay and Canada have made it legal, while the Netherlands, Switzerland and Portugal have liberal legislation around its use.
But there is conflicting research into the affects of cannabis on the user. Last month a Canadian study found sustained usage showed major developmental problems for young people, impairing their cognitive functions like recall memory, perceptual reasoning, inhibition, and working memory.