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Meet the Psychedelic English Countess Marketing Cannabis to Europe

Canopy Growth Partners With Psychedelic Countess
Photo by Robert Funke Courtesy of The Beckley Foundation

Economics

Meet the Psychedelic English Countess Marketing Cannabis to Europe

To expand its footprint overseas, Canopy Growth Corp is turning to lifted gentry with a hole in her head and a house straight out of a Harry Potter book.

Though it’s the world’s most popular illicit drug in the corners of the globe untouched by legalization and the hot commodity everywhere it’s legal, cannabis nonetheless still requires an introduction. 

Cannabis companies are eager to seize the market in Europe, which by one estimate may be worth tens of billions of U.S. dollars in 10 years. But to do so, they require a little hand-holding when it comes to making the connection and concocting a sales pitch, preferably one rooted in the kind of science that will sell with both governments and the socialized medicine they provide.

One solution? Give the reins to an expert.

Canadian cannabis unicorn Canopy Growth Corp., darling of the North American stock market, has turned to a legendary figure in the English counterculture movement who also happens to be landed gentry: Amanda Feilding. Feilding is the countess of Wemyss and March, and the principal force behind the Beckley Foundation, which has been a leading sponsor of experimental drug research for decades.

“There’s now an unstoppable global momentum behind medical cannabis reform,” the countess told Bloomberg. “It will soon take over Europe.”

Probably true — Britain is lurching erratically but generally in the direction of adopting cannabis-based therapeutics — but companies like Canopy are very much hoping it is a controlled takeover.

A Background in the Underground

As Bloomberg reported in a profile of the countess, Canopy has turned to Feilding to run a $9.6 million research effort meant to quantify cannabis’s value for both cancer pain and opioid addiction.

Cannabis is currently available for medical uses in 10 countries in Europe, but under a variety of controls, all strict. In Italy, cannabis is grown by the military. In the United Kingdom, cannabis prescriptions are available only from specialists who can charge exorbitant amounts.

If successful — and if adopted by either individual patients, or, better yet, nationalized healthcare providers like Britain’s NHS — Canopy stands a much better chance of seizing a sizable portion of that market, in a way more akin to a pharmaceutical company’s dominance of a pill market than, say, a California cannabis brand’s presence in the Instagram feeds of dispensary customers.

And it appears the company could not have recruited a more experienced — or eccentric — ambassador. Feilding is best known as a pioneering advocate for microdosing LSD with a very unorthodox habit of self-experimentation, and an avid explorer of the intersection of psychedelics, neuroscience, and consciousness. She has spent the past 50 years pushing for drug-policy reform. She first smoked cannabis while listening to Ray Charles, and has written letters to the United Nations, urging the organization to drop a 1961 treaty banning most drug-policy reform, enlisting help from both Jimmy Carter and Sean Parker.

Feilding lives in a 500-year-old castle near Oxford she renamed “Brainblood Hall” in the 1960s, when she experimented with LSD microdosing generations before Silicon Valley types “discovered” the practice. She also — and this anecdote is mentioned every time Feilding’s name is uttered — once drilled a hole in her head to expand her mind, a practice known as trepanation.

Her unorthodox education — she eschewed the predictable Oxbridge path typical of English nobility for studies in classical Arabic, sculpture, mysticism, and trepanning (hence the drill) — has led to a career in pushing scientific research in support of both psychedelics and cannabis.

“Her ability to take a scientific look at what would otherwise be considered as controversial therapeutics makes her a very good partner,” said Mark Ware, Canopy’s chief medical officer, in an interview with Bloomberg. Ware is himself a leading medical-marijuana researcher, as a former professor of medicine at McGill University’s medical school. “She’s brave enough to step into relatively uncharted waters with us, but is scientifically rigorous enough to be able to give really credible information,” he said of the countess.

The initial study to be birthed from the partnership between Canopy and Feilding’s Beckley Foundation will enroll 250 patients and will examine which cannabis strains work best for afflictions like pain, addiction and anxiety, Bloomberg reported.

Results are expected in 2020, and may fuel sales of products introduced by Spectrum Biomedical UK, a venture between Canopy and the Beckley Foundation. Provided, of course, that governments buy it first.

TELL US, which unconventional theories about cannabis would you like to see researched?

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