Patient View: Working in the Cannabis Industry

Copy of Marketing Professional (10)

Alex Fraser, the Patient Access Lead at Grow Biotech, spoke with Lumino to share his experience and perspective to give a patient view of working in the cannabis industry.

How long have you been in the industry for?

I joined Grow Biotech in February 2019 after 9 months as a consultant working for myself. I also launched the United Patients Alliance in the summer of 2014 so I guess six years now.

What were you doing before you joined Grow?

I was self-employed as a consultant in the industry and also working part-time for Brighton and Hove Libraries.

What was the hiring process like for you?

Really straightforward. I was interviewed by a few members of the Grow team, I must have impressed them. I’m not sure how they expected the relationship to be honest but I said I wanted a full-time job in cannabis and from there we negotiated salary and that was it. I think they understood from an early stage the importance of having an experienced patient advocate on the team and I guess I fit that description.

Based on your previous experience, what skills and experience have you bought forward with you that have been useful?

Oh, I’m a big believer that everything you do builds your skillset. I studied music and that involved a performance aspect and I’ve certainly benefited from that experience of being on stage when it comes to speaking at conferences or even just leading a meeting. Working with the UPA and in public libraries has given me experience in talking to and dealing with people from all walks of life.

I think the most important thing for me is the knowledge I’ve gained from my personal experience of medicating with cannabis and the many patients I’ve spoken to who do the same. Nothing can compare to direct interaction with patients and having actually lived for years as someone with a chronic condition and seeing the difference cannabis made to my life, and the lives of the patients I worked alongside.

What were your assumptions/expectations before you joined?

Honestly, I think I’m so lucky. I had no experience of pharma or start-ups and I assumed it would be a lot of compromising my personal ethics and that I would have to fight to ensure things remained patient-centric and that hasn’t been the case at all. The rest of the team just “get it” and are hugely supportive of the way I work and completely understand the need to come at this with patients in mind.

Our goal at Grow has always been to increase access to patients so they can have an improved quality of life. It’s really satisfying to be able to say that has been the case since I joined and continues to be at the forefront of everything we do.

Where did you get your information/research before you joined?

I was aware of the wider industry before I joined my other work with the UPA and the research I had been doing for many years on medical cannabis. I didn’t know much about Grow before I joined but I did do a bit of due diligence. I spoke to my friends at Hanway Associates, (who had been really great in helping me set up my consultancy) to make sure Grow was legit and I wasn’t walking into something I might regret.

Now that you’re working what is it actually like- what are the actual challenges?

There are all sorts of difficulties in growing the market for cannabis medicines. I think the main barrier is a lack of information on how this all works, which means that both patients and doctors aren’t aware of the options available. The fact the industry is currently operating within the private medical sector is also a challenge: UK patients are used to subsidised NHS prescriptions. So we’re simultaneously trying to reduce the costs of the private systems (whilst still providing the broadest possible portfolio of medicines for patients) as well as developing the evidence base to enable NHS prescriptions.

Stigma is also a huge factor in the UK. People (including doctors) are overly fearful of cannabis. This is likely due to countless tabloid headlines on the dangers of “skunk” and misleading propaganda from the War on Drugs. I’m sure we all remember “this is your brain on drugs” and the video of a fried egg … which I never understood, who doesn’t prefer their eggs fried?

Anyway, I’m certainly not saying there aren’t side-effects to cannabis use, but in the UK the risks of psychosis and schizophrenia have been exaggerated to the point where people honestly think cannabis is more harmful than alcohol or opiates — which is demonstrably untrue. The sooner our medical professionals are taught about cannabis medicines the sooner patients will benefit from their many medical applications.

Without giving away too many insider secrets, what is it that you’re doing with Grow? What does your ‘normal’ week look like?

There’s no such thing as a “normal” week in a start-up, especially one in such a novel industry. One day I’ll be guesting on a podcast, the next I’ll be spending my time talking to patients about their experiences getting a prescription. I seem to end up developing educational materials and resources a lot too. I work with patients, clinics, producers of medicines as well as our pharmacy partners IPS (who are brilliant by the way).

A lot of my time is spent dealing with patient enquiries and this is where I find the most satisfaction. It’s great to be able to talk to patients who, perhaps only a week ago, had no idea cannabis could be prescribed in the UK, and this week they are receiving their first delivery of their cannabis prescription. Seeing the positive impact of our medicines on the health of individuals I’m speaking to is amazing. Considering I fought for exactly this for 5 years as an advocate… sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure this is all real!

What advice would you give to anyone looking to get involved in the industry?

Be brave, be bold. You don’t have to compromise your goals or beliefs to be successful but also, don’t expect that success to come overnight. Be persistent and believe in yourself. Believe in cannabis too! This plant has been grown and used by humans for tens of thousands of years, that isn’t going to change. The industry is going to be enormous when it’s fully established worldwide and, no matter what it might seem like from the outside looking in, it really has only just begun. Get involved now and be a part of growing this industry into something beautiful, ethical, and inspiring!