By EMILY RIGBY, PCA Director & Director of Research Programs at the Australian Institute for Medical Cannabis (AIMC)

(Article courtesy of Australian Society of Horticultural Science (AuSHS) Newsletter Summer 2018

Medical cannabis is one of the fastest growing industries worldwide, with a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.1% from 2016 to 2025 (Grand View Research Inc.).

Australia is well positioned to lead the world in this new and emerging industry thanks to its innovative and adaptive agricultural and biomedical industries; international trade relationships; quality branding and favourable climatic conditions.


The use of cannabis as a medicine spans several thousands of years, however, more recently cannabis use has been prohibited resulting in limited availability of rigorous scientific research in the field. A current rapid shift is making cannabis available as a ‘new’ medicine across the world, including Australia.

Australian Legislation

In February 2016, the Australian Government passed amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 to establish a licensing and permit scheme for the lawful research, cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis products.

From March 2017, doctors and specialists (across most Australian States and Territories) can legally apply to prescribe a range of medicinal cannabis medicines for certain conditions under patient special access schemes.

Legalising medicinal cannabis in Australia has the potential to create a domestic industry currently estimated to be worth $100-150 million per annum with demand of 8,000 kg per year of plant material (Dr. Monica Doblin).

The global medicinal cannabis market is predicted to be worth US $55.8 billion by 2025 (Grand View Research Inc.).

Australian Opportunities

As the use of medicinal cannabis increases worldwide, the domestic and global medicinal cannabis market represents a new opportunity for Australian agriculture and biomedical industries.

Urgent R&D is needed to support the sustainable and productive growth of this new industry. To build this industry the Australian domestic cannabis industry needs to be able to provide high quality, raw materials for R&D of medical treatments without the need to obtain medical-grade cannabis from overseas.

There are clear benefits for local cannabis production and local supply chains for patients with huge potential for export markets.

Export market opportunities have been approved by the Australian Government to secure Australia’s position in this rapidly expanding, new and emerging rural industry.

Increasing research is demonstrating the growing evidence to support medicinal cannabis as a valuable medical option for treating a range of symptoms, however, more research is needed and Australia is well positioned to provide this research.

The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) monograph on cannabis suggests there are over 700 unique chemical compounds in the cannabis plant; including the successful isolation of at least 144 different cannabinoids by Dr. David Meiri (Technion, Israel Institute of Technology).

The most well-known and researched are delta 9 tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which have generally been the main focus for medical use.

Matching Patients To The Appropriate Medicine Cannabis plants exhibit wide variation in the quantity and type of cannabinoids they produce, known as the plant’s cannabinoid profile.

Although the chemical structures of many cannabinoids are similar, their pharmacological effects can be very different.

New research is showing the many potential therapeutic benefits of other, lesser-known cannabinoids for certain medical conditions such as CBG (cannabigerol) and THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin).

In addition, over 100 different terpenes have also been identified within different cannabis varieties providing unique terpene profiles.

Research has shown terpenes interact synergistically with cannabinoids offering additional medical value to cannabis as medicine (Russo, 2011).

Terpene R&D is currently opening up new scientific and medical terrains for cannabis research as the interaction between the terpenes, CBD, THC and other cannabinoids becomes a vital consideration in matching patients to the appropriate medicine.

As medical science builds its knowledge base of the Endocannabinoid System, focus will be placed on the development of specific cannabinoid / terpene profiles to treat specific illnesses.

More research is needed in determining the presence and medical potential of these compounds in different cannabis varieties to develop their potential as medicine.

Selective breeding and homogenous growing variables have been used to control the genetics of cannabis plants and modify the cannabinoid profile.

While the genetic make-up (genotype) of each plant provides a blueprint for growth, the environmental conditions under which the plant is grown induce the physical expression (i.e. phenotype) of the genetic characteristics.

Indoor Vs. Greenhouse Production

Cultivation of cannabis varieties under Australian conditions has the potential to provide various phenotype expressions distinct from cultivation in other countries and under different growing conditions (e.g. indoor verse greenhouse production).

The medical cannabis industry is rapidly evolving, more R&D is urgently needed to provide high-quality plant material with the desired and quantified cannabinoid and terpene profiles for clinical trials and manufacture of medicines.

Australia is well positioned to provide this research to support this new, innovative industry through the provision of science and innovation.

Participation is encouraged along with the uptake of science and technology across multiple platforms to provide a new and exciting industry and encourage the younger generation into a science-based career within rural industries.

Emily Rigby