Q&A: Shifting the stigma behind medicinal cannabis
CannaPlus+ is New Zealand’s first internationally affiliated medicinal cannabis clinic network and telemedicine platform. Founder Eva Neshat reveals the vision behind the business. NZB: Launching a new, consumer focused business during the pandemic can’t have been easy. How have you continued to navigate the ongoing challenges created by the pandemic over the past year? EVA: A […]
CannaPlus+ is New Zealand’s first internationally affiliated medicinal cannabis clinic network and telemedicine platform. Founder Eva Neshat reveals the vision behind the business.
NZB: Launching a new, consumer focused business during the pandemic can’t have been easy. How have you continued to navigate the ongoing challenges created by the pandemic over the past year?
EVA: A challenge would be an understatement. Navigating the continuous roadblocks that have been in our way due to the pandemic has been extremely difficult. Like all businesses we have dealt with multiple lockdowns, a delayed launch, cancelled events, as well as managing the team, consultants, and facilities all through the uncertainty.
For us, agile project delivery has been the most beneficial way to mitigate the risk and manage the challenges. As well as keeping a cool, calm, and collected mind. This is a perfect example of it not mattering how much you plan, there are things you just can’t plan for. Even when I decided to push the ‘GO’ button we had the omicron surge a week later.
It’s important to have a calm mind and trust in the process. I am ruthlessly committed to what we do here at CannaPlus+ and believe in it with every core of my being. You really have to keep the team going through all of this, keeping an upbeat positive attitude and reassuring your team is key.
NZB: The medicinal cannabis industry is one that has had a lot of stigma attached to it, how is CannaPlus+ working to shift this and reposition the industry as a whole in New Zealand?
EVA: Yes, unfortunately there is a still a stigma attached to medicinal cannabis, this comes from the lack of understanding of its benefits and uses. Our aim is to legitimise the perception of medicinal cannabis in New Zealand and in order to assist us with this we have partnered with international industry leaders in medicinal cannabis patient care out of Canada, CannaWay.
Educating patients and GPs is critical to developing acceptance of medicinal cannabis in New Zealand as a whole. CannaPlus+ education programmes aim to provide new opportunities for the medical community to learn about how cannabis can be incorporated into a patient’s treatment plan. It’s imperative to educate and support physicians by establishing a comprehensive educational platform that is accessible for all medical professionals. The advantages of providing specific education to prescribing GPs is to ensure they are aware of the extent and proven research behind the health benefits of medicinal cannabis products and become more confident in prescribing products that address specific health concerns.
The mindset will shift when the physician takes it upon themselves to further educate and expand their knowledge in this area, therefore at CannaPlus+, education is one of our core focuses.
For continued national and international acceptance of medicinal cannabis, it is also imperative to continue to research the endocannabinoid system. This is supported by CannaPlus+ and CannaWay’s aim to compile, study and analyse data to facilitate clinical trials and retrospective observational studies.
NZB: I understand there’s also a personal experience driving the conviction you have in making medicinal cannabis more easily accessible to those who need it, can you tell us more about that?
EVA: I would definitely say that this journey for me has been heart led. I am a huge advocate of plant-based medicine and have witnessed it work wonders for many people, myself included.
I witnessed my mother in her battle with breast cancer, she is still with us and for that I am grateful every day. Watching her struggle was immensely difficult. Seeing her shifts, mentally and physically, as she was enduring chemotherapy, radiation treatment and recovering from a mastectomy isn’t something anyone is OK witnessing.
She wasn’t comfortable trying medicinal cannabis for relief due to the stigma. After some encouragement, when she did try endocannabinoids, it was in the form of edibles or oils, the relief and benefits from a pain perspective were significant. Unfortunately, this was only periodically as it was seldomly available.
Everyone – and I mean everyone – should be able to access to the medicine they feel can help them the most.
I’m a strong believer that we are on the precipice of a new era of medicine. I view medicinal cannabis as the gateway to the acceptance of plant-based medicines in the future and we are seeing this in overseas trends already. My overseas partners and I are strongly aligned on this vision and position ourselves to support patients who haven’t been able to achieve symptomatic relief from traditional medication.
NZB: You’ve got a vastly experienced board of directors, what was your main focus when assembling your advisory team?
EVA: The members of your board must be among the most important people you will ever “hire” for the company. When selecting my board, I thought hard about the future vision off my business and alongside myself, who would be best positioned to get us there.
Years ago at a dinner in Bali, I was sitting opposite a QC and he said something to me that I never forgot “experience pays dividends”. Experience can come in many forms: operational experience, people who have started companies themselves; market experience, in this case the medical industry, someone who has a stellar reputation and track record, and functional experience, that is c-suite. Even right down to raw intelligence and intellectual horsepower.
When selecting my board, I wanted the most experienced people in the industry. People that had vast experience in the medical sector, trusted and well respected in the medical fraternity, and a track record commercially. More than anything, board members I knew I could ultimately trust in, learn from, and who would be best suited to guide me on this journey – which is hard to define and no easy feat.
I pinpointed my chairman, Dr Mark Fraundorfer, months before I approached him. After a few months of DD he finally took me on and we have never looked back. One of the best decisions I have made and together, we built out our board ensuring we had the right balance.
NZB: For funding, you successfully raised a huge amount of capital via an investor drive. Is this correct? What platform did you use and what advice would you give to those looking to do the same?
EVA: We actually completed our raise privately and there are a few reasons as to why. Mainly, maintaining the ethical integrity of the company, especially in an industry such as this, has always been incredibility important to me.
The first two years of building this business were self-funded with no salary and boy was that hard. Eventually it took an angel investment to get it across the line and to the position where we were able to go for a substantial capital raise. It was a long and challenging journey; I am incredibly happy with where we are at.
NZB: What’s yor advice for anyone looking at launching a medical industry start up?
EVA: Make sure you have chosen a stellar advisory team. Your advisory team is everything and will help you navigate turbulent waters. Trust them, and back them. In turn, they will trust and back you.
It’s impossible to be a across all the specialties needed to successfully launch a medical start up. The medical industry is complex and often, very difficult to navigate. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses. And be OK with them.
If you are growing at pace, your company will be ever evolving. When launching a high growth start up, don’t try to find the long-term solution. As your company grows it will have radically different needs.
Always have a long-term vision. But stay focused on the next 6 to12 months.
NZB: If you had the chance to do one thing differently over the last 12 months, given the power of hindsight – what would it be?
EVA: I am immensely proud of the time and steps I have taken to ensure we got this right. Where I would normally take 6 months, I took 2 years. Where I would run, I walked. With the right pace, came progress. This has come from wisdom of experience and dedication to the cause. There is nothing that has happened the last 12 months I would have changed. Everything that has occurred has led me right to where I am.
NZB: CannaPlus+ is rolling out a successful clinic model that has been underway in Canada for 5 years now under the brand CannaWay. What do you see as the key advantages to having an international platform to replicate? And what have you also had to change and adapt to ensure it’s still relevant to the local NZ market?
EVA: I mentioned earlier how experience pays dividends. Since its inception in 2017, CannaWay has assessed over 20,000 patients and is well-positioned as a respected and trusted medical cannabis clinic within the Canadian medical community.
It’s an amazing feeling to be able to bring Kiwis the experience and credibility they deserve to allow them to feel safe and comfortable to make their own choices with a medicinal cannabis clinic they can trust.
We are backed by an incredibly strong Kiwi-based medical board and team. We provide Kiwi’s with safe, research based, legal and affordable access to consistent, high-quality medicinal cannabis treatment.
For more information on CannaPlus+ go to www.cannaplus.co.nz