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Already a successful business in the Channel Islands, medicinal cannabis supplier, Medicann, has now opened its doors here.
But its owner, Gary Whipp, is not new to the island. He was born and brought up here and, for him, this is a bit like coming home.
Two years ago he set up the first Medicann Medicinal Cannabis Clinic in Jersey followed by another one, a year later, in Guernsey. There are strict medical criteria around which patients are eligible to be prescribed the drug, and Gary estimates they have had to turn down around 2,000 people who did not meet the criteria. Despite this, Medicann already has 3,500 patients in the Channel Islands.
Now that the Iyysle of Man has put the necessary legislation in place, Gary has been able to open a clinic here. The Manx business will be run by his son, Jack, who also runs the Guernsey operation.
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Gary says: ‘It’s a very exciting time’. “My island”, as I call it, is the last of the three islands to come on board but that doesn’t matter – people will still benefit.’
He is the sort of larger than life entrepreneur often referred to in the media as ‘colourful’. He was educated at King William’s College where he was a keen rugby player, who went on the play for Vagabonds and the Isle of Man.
He left the island when he was 22. He says: ‘I went to the UK where I grew a couple of businesses, one of which, Cable Direct, was bought by Carphone Warehouse and renamed Talk Talk Business.’
In 2006 he moved with his family to Jersey and quickly became established in the business community there, as chief executive officer of Newtel. In 2009 he was also appointed head of an enterprise group at Jersey Post, responsible for plotting its future course in the world of digital mail and online deliveries.
Now he is focussing his enthusiasm and enterprise on medicinal cannabis and, like many others, he is a true believer in its potential to alleviate the symptoms of a number of medical conditions. He has seen this at first hand as he has himself qualified as a medicinal cannabis consultant and has met many patients whose lives have been transformed.
One Medicann patient with severe epilepsy, who was suffering multiple fits almost on a daily basis, had his symptoms relieved by taking medicinal cannabis. He told Gary: ‘It hasn’t cured me, I still have epilepsy, but it’s given me back a quality of life.’
And whilst there are a lot of people already buying products like CBD oil from unregulated online sources, the Medicann model will give them the chance to have a proper consultation using local doctors and specialists, with the product dispensed directly from a local pharmacy.
Gary says: ‘We like the fact that we do face to face consultations. It’s better for the patient and better for the doctor.’
And he goes on: ‘Medicinal cannabis is not the same as the substance people smoke to get high – it can only be administered via oil or a vape – but it is still a Schedule Two drug and, as such, its supply is strictly regulated.’
Medicann is not in the business of cultivating the plant but Gary says that they ‘have agreements with all the largest growers worldwide’ and he has already met with Peel Holdings chairman, John Whittaker, to talk about his plans to cultivate medicinal cannabis in the Isle of Man.
Gary says: ‘We would definitely want to use a product that was grown locally if it ticked all the right medical boxes.’
One of the reasons that he, and a growing number of medical professionals, are so keen on medicinal cannabis, is because of its potential to reduce the usage of opioid and other painkillers which can be addictive or have harmful side effects.
And, although we are only now beginning to think of cannabis as something other than a recreational drug, it has been used a medicine for centuries, with known use dating back to 4000BC in ancient China.
Professor Mike Barnes, a consultant neurologist in the UK, has been one of its most vocal advocates. Writing in the Guardian in 2016, he said: ‘My report shows that there is strong evidence that medical cannabis helps with chronic pain; spasticity (common, disabling and painful after stroke or brain injury and common in those suffering from multiple sclerosis, as examples); for nausea and vomiting, especially during chemotherapy; and for the management of anxiety. There is also evidence of usefulness in sleep disorders, for appetite stimulation (in HIV, for example), fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe childhood epilepsies, bladder problems and even for control of some cancers.’
Now, the likelihood is that, with increased usage under clinically regulated conditions, much more of its potential will be realised.
Gary says: ‘It’s still all a learning curve: the more patients you see, the more you learn.’
He still remembers fondly how one elderly lady he met at his Jersey clinic, phoned him a few months later to tell him: ‘You have changed my life. I’m now out in the garden – and I’m doing the gardening.’
As he says: ‘It’s not a first-line medication, it’s a last resort, and it’s not a miracle cure but it has the potential to give somebody a proper quality of life.’
And, as he points out, medicinal cannabis is not supplied free: ‘And you wouldn’t continue to pay for it out of your own pocket if it didn’t work.’
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