Marguerite Arnold   |   May 11, 2018

The Battle Over Medical Vapes In Europe

The international battle for medical vapes has now begun in earnest. For those who were unaware of the impending skirmish, the details of this showdown at the vape version of the OK Corral are also nuanced.
Marguerite Arnold is an American expat who is also the first in her 900-year-old Jewish family to return to Germany to live since the Holocaust. She has covered the global cannabis industry and movement as a journalist since 2014 from…

This is also a discussion that is likely to take a very different tone in other places. Why? Regulatory environments, healthcare realities, and of course, federal reform.

Wafting through all of this is also politics of course. Cannatech can be exported a lot less acrimoniously than the plant (at least from Israel to anywhere else). So instead of product, at least for the moment, Israel is sending its best canna related technology abroad and the first battle lines are being drawn over vape tech.

 

Why Battleground Europe?

While Canada and Australia look like paragons of regulatory coverage and compliance next to the U.S., Europe is the real prize in the valuable medical cannabis and device global market. Why? Because the plant is becoming recognized if not regulated as medicine, and vapes that work well enough to deliver consistent results (like dosing) are expensive.

In Germany and presumably across Europe as medical reform rolls on, vapes of a certain quality will clearly be regulated as medical devices. Conceivably, these vapes can be reimbursed by insurance and that is why this potential showdown is also likely to include more players and more tech innovation.

 

Who Are The Players?

The undisputed rulers of the current global “medical vape” market – such as it is -  are a German firm by the name of Storz and Bickel. If you are unfamiliar with them in this niche, you know their other, seminal product - The Volcano. They have a full line of consumer products found on their webstore – and all of these have passed consumer safety requirements in many countries. However, they have ALSO pioneered the medical vape space specifically. In fact, the company produced their first medical vaporizer in 2010. These days, they have a full line of certified medical devices approved as medical cannabis vaporizers in Europe, Canada, and Israel. In fact, per S&B’s clearly marked Israeli Ministry of Health certificate obtained by Cannabis Tech, they were granted approval last year in Israel as precisely this.  The license obtained by the company from Health Canada last year is also very specific – this is a medical vaporizer for cannabinoids.

However here is where it all gets confusing. Because of German law about “advertising” medical products or the use of “cannabis” as a word on any product, this is information that consumers cannot find easily on promotional materials online.  Storz and Bickel also have to put their German medical research trial data on a website designed only for professional use. 

Now comes the first serious competitor. 

Kanabo Research, is, of course, the Israeli “interloper.” Claiming that its product – the Vape pod - is now the first medical cannabis vape approved by any federal agency in any country, the company is now busy partnering with a US firm to set up a production farm in Europe.

This image is courtesy of VapePod .

Strangely enough, the Ministry of Health actually approved what appears to be the first real certification in this space to a German firm – S&B – and furthermore did so last year.

 

A Confusing Mishmash of Regulatory Guidelines

The concept of what a “medical vape” should be – or be capable of doing is a whole other question. This is not a new field, but the tech is rapidly maturing. And the inhalation of cannabis via vaping a very new “science.” While the Israelis, in general, have the best R&D in the world on this topic because their program is decades older than anyone else’s, they look outside the country for R&D investment cash. For the first part of the cannabinoid program in Israel, most of that money came via secret channels from the U.S. government. These days it is coming from private investors. And there are many of them with an eye far beyond what happens in Israel’s cannatech market.

Up until now in fact, foreign investors in Israel’s cannabis market were also fashioning and investing in products not for the European, but rather the American market. Where there is also, let’s remember, no federal reform and no health insurance coverage. And far more lax regulations on introducing even a “medical” or “cannabis” product into the market.

What Kanabo appears to be doing, however, is using the medical certification from the Israeli government as a marketing weapon against the clear rival in Europe in this space –S&B; in a place with very different regulation.

That is not a strategy that will hold water for very long as the market continues to mature. In the meantime, be aware of the potential for hyperbole as the niche establishes itself for the first time. A certain amount of that is inevitable.

The best news? National governments are beginning to regulate this space. 

 

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