It is not that long ago that the very idea of investing in cannabis would have seemed ridiculous.
It was an illegal recreational drug so there was literally nothing to invest in other than a “stash”.
However, the very fact that recreational cannabis use has been illegal in most Western countries since the 1930’s has meant it has been significantly under-researched by modern pharmacology, causing this flowering herb to suddenly become one of the hottest investment sectors on world markets.
Uses of cannabis
The reason is not too hard to find; cannabis is showing tremendous promise in treating a range of diseases and conditions ranging from appetite enhancement and anti-nausea for patients going through chemotherapy or suffering from HIV all the way through to suppressing or eliminating convulsive or muscle spasm sessions in diseases such as epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, strokes and Parkinson’s disease.
Cannabis also shows some promise as a treatment for insomnia, eczema, pain relief, melanoma and even for autism, although many of these claims will obviously need to be backed up with medical trials in which standardised doses of various cannabinoids are compared with current treatments to ensure they are effective.
Cannabis has also shown promise as an ingredient in cosmetics, in nutritional food products, as a biofuel, a renewable fibre and, of course, for its still more controversial use as a recreational drug with psychoactive properties.
In some markets, such as Canada, recreational use of cannabis is in the process of being allowed and is becoming a significant market.
Legal changes in recent times
Interestingly, it was the use of cannabis as an illegal recreational drug that eventually led to significant political pressure around the world from parents of sick children who were forced to effectively become criminals to arrange the supply of cannabis oil to alleviate the symptoms of their children.
That has led to a significant easing of restrictions in researching and supplying medicinal cannabis, particularly in Australia, Canada and many states within the United States but also in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Germany, India, Jamaica, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Uruguay.
Why was it illegal in the first place?
Cannabis hasn’t always been illegal – it was a key ingredient in many mass produced legal drugs in the early 1900’s but its use was greatly tightened up after the Mexican Revolution as the United States tried to deal with an influx of Mexican immigrants into the southern states – particularly Texas and Louisiana.
While Americans were familiar with cannabis as an ingredient in medicines, the use by Mexicans of “marijuana” was a new thing and soon the fear of these new immigrants was turned into a very successful campaign to stamp out marijuana usage.
It is clear what was happening here – Mexican immigration was being more tightly controlled with marijuana as a key legal excuse and a reason to search, detain and deport Mexican immigrants.
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively banned the use and sale of marijuana and cannabis was later placed on the most restricted drug use, Schedule 1, making it very hard to obtain for drug manufacturers and even researchers.
That restrictive drug status spread to most modern Western countries so there was little or no modern pharmacological research into the 500 natural compounds, including 104 cannabinoids, that are found in the cannabis plant.
It is only now that we are finding out in greater detail how these various cannabinoid compounds interact and trigger receptors in the central nervous and immune system to produce effects that may be highly beneficial to human health.
Market size potential/estimates
It is for this reason that the legal cannabis market is so recent, with the medicinal use of cannabis in Australia only getting legislative approval in 2016 with legal importation for medicinal use only arriving this year.
Growing cannabis crops here is still in the early stages of approval, although as with most agricultural exports Australia shows enormous promise.
Unlike many offshore markets which rely on greenhouse growth, Australia has the potential for outdoor cannabis crops and potentially two crops a year in high sunlight areas.
Deloitte estimated that Canada alone would burn through 600,000 kgs of cannabis a year if it fully legalises recreational use in 2018 – an amount that exceeds the country’s growing capacity, even though it has extensive greenhouses cultivating the plants.
The gradual legalisation of cannabis has led to an amazing flurry of activity – much of it on share markets including Canada and Australia – as companies move to address the huge markets for cannabis products.
In the US alone, where cannabis isn’t even legal at a Federal level yet but is legal in many states, sales grew by staggering 30 per cent in 2016 to reach US$6.7 billion. There have been credible estimates that US cannabis sales will reach US$20.2 billion by 2021 and even a staggering US$50 billion by 2026 while world consumption has been put as high as $500 billion by 2029.
Big companies getting involved
Cannabis is going mainstream too – Constellation Brands, the parent company behind Corona, Modelo, Svedka, and many other alcoholic drinks recently bought a 9.9 per cent stake in leading Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth for US$191 million and is going to experiment with cannabis infused drinks.
It is an understandable business decision as alcohol sales continue to fall and cannabis sales are rising fast.
On the medical side, cannabis trials are aiming to address diseases in which treatments are measured in the many billions of dollars each year.
While you wouldn’t expect cannabis based medications to dominate any of those markets, even small percentages could be worth big money.
For example, Australian cannabis company AusCann is researching a drug to treat chronic and neuropathic pain – a market that is greater than $5 billion a year in Australia alone.
It is not hard to envisage several blockbuster cannabis based drugs reaching massive global sales in markets such as pain, nausea, appetite and convulsion or muscle spasm reduction – with the caveat that it will take many years of clinical trials to ensure uniform dosing, identify the right mix of compounds and prove drug efficacy.
The market for more peripheral cannabis products such as cosmetics, food supplements, edible, oil and smoking recreational drug use and to provide fibre and biofuel may become a more immediate market than as a medicinal drug, given the shorter path to market.
Now we will take a look at the individual cannabis stocks on the ASX.
Cannabis stocks on the ASX
Cannabis is here to stay and will play an increasing role in the future of various industries.
So let’s take a closer look at the numerous cannabis listed stocks on the ASX.
MGC Pharmaceuticals (ASX: MXC)
MGC Pharmaceuticals’ cannabidiol-based herbal cream is now available for psoriasis sufferers throughout Australasia, the European Union and US.
Patients can purchase the CBD-based cream which has proved successful in clinical tests in easing itchiness, flaking and severe dryness in mild to moderate psoriasis sufferers.
Two other CBD-based products are due to be available early this year including a cream for seborrheic dermatitis and a balm for oily acne prone skin.
Meanwhile, MGC’s orally-administered CannEpil treatment will also be available to Australian patients early this year with an authorised doctor’s prescription at a cheaper price than competing products.
HL Pharma will manage approvals and distribution of the epilepsy drug to hospitals and pharmacies across the country and the move has the backing of Epilepsy Action Australia (EEA), with an initial group of five doctors and a starting pool of more than 50 patients.
The deal with HL Pharma will add significant revenue even from a small initial patient pool and obviously has the potential to increase rapidly if the treatment proves a popular option.
MGC has also announced a A$40 million agreement to supply 15,000kg a month of CBD formulations to Korean cosmetics manufacturer Varm Cosmo.
MGC’s pharmaceutical, cosmetic and medical cannabis cultivation is centred on a 1,100-square metre glasshouse facility in the Czech Republic and an open field farm in Slovenia.
Creso Pharma (ASX: CPH)
Through various agreements, Creso Pharma has strong exposure to medicinal cannabis markets in Australia, Latin America, Canada and China.
Creso also plans to access Canada’s edible and recreational cannabis demand, with its growing facility in the country due for completion mid-year.
According to the company, the 20,000sq ft facility will product up to 4,000kg of cannabis a year. Creso also intends to acquire adjoining land and expand the facility up to 200,000sq ft in the future, which it believes could produce up to 40,000kg a year.
Creso claims this will keep it ahead of other players because it will have full ownership and the ability to cultivate, extract and manufacture its own human and animal therapeutic products in Canada for local and export use.
In late December, Creso shouldered into Latin America’s medicinal cannabis market with a US$7.5 million purchase of Kunna Canada’s wholly-owned Colombian subsidiary Kunna S.A.A. Creso believes the acquisition makes it the only ASX-listed cannabis company with direct exposure to the Colombian market, which also provides a foothold into the wider Latin American region.
Creso’s has scheduled its cannaQIX®10 pastilles for stress and anxiety to be available in Switzerland from March, while the company is also investigating cannabis and hemp-based beverages for release by mid-year.
MMJ Phytotech (ASX: MMJ)
Perth-based MMJ Phytotech also aims to take advantage of Canada’s lucrative medicinal and recreational cannabis sectors, which is boosted with its recent C$2 million debenture investment in Toronto-based Weed Me in December 2017.
Weed Me was established in 2016 to become a licenced cannabis producer, with a cultivation permit pending approval in the next few months. The company is fitting out its 8,000sq ft growing facility and has spent 18 months researching and developing unique lower cost cultivation techniques.
By January 2019, Weed Me plans to boost the facility to 120,000sq ft.
MMJ has an 59% interest in Harvest One Canada (TSXV: HVST), which owns a 59% stake in Satipharm AG which has received Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration approval to sell its CBD prescription capsules.
Health Canada has granted MMJ a licence to produce medical cannabis and MMJ also expects to participate in the emerging recreational market.
Via Harvest One and Satipharm, MMJ has exposure to the entire medicinal cannabis value-chain and markets in western Europe, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and Australia.
MMJ also fully owns Israeli biopharmaceutical company Phytotech Therapeutics which has a pipeline of cannabis based drugs, including two undergoing clinical trials.
Cann Group (ASX: CAN)
Cann Group was the first company in Australia to secure its necessary licences and permits to cultivate and research cannabis for human medicinal purposes and was subsequently Australia’s first company to harvest a medicinal cannabis crop.
The company has also openly welcomed the government’s decision to allow medicinal cannabis exports to overseas markets.
Cann produced its first crop in Victoria and has a technical services agreement with Agriculture Victoria to receive several medicinal cannabis strains.
Canada’s second largest cannabis player Aurora Cannabis has a 19.9% interest in Cann and the duo also has a technical services agreement regarding exchange of information and support regarding cultivation and processing of medicinal cannabis as well as extraction, manufacturing and analyse of cannabis extracts,
Additionally, Cann has a deal in place with vaporiser company CannaKorp to import and sell CannaKorp’s vaporising system and the right to produce medicinal cannabis pods that come with the device.
Cann commissioned its second research and development and cultivation facility in Melbourne in late December which added 600sq m in cultivation capacity to complement the company’s 160sq m initial facility where it has completed three harvests since May.
It is currently scaling up production capacity under its phase three expansion program, is well capitalised and has a highly experienced agribusiness board.
AusCann (ASX: AC8)
Based in Perth, AusCann is fully licenced for growing and researching medicinal cannabis and has a strong relationship with Canada’s largest player, Canopy Growth, which holds AusCann shares.
That relationship allows AusCann to import medications from Canada and supply them to Australian patients even before its first crops are grown and formulated.
AusCann also has some other important relationships with Chilean grower Fundacion Daya, opium poppy exporter Tasmanian Alkaloids, Phytoplant Research, Zelda Therapeutics and Curtin University.
These partners mean that AusCann has detailed help in many medicinal cannabis aspects from getting the right cultivars to grow correctly through to marketing, clinical testing and drug formulation.
In mid-December, AusCann reportedly planted its second cannabis crop in Chile at its joint venture (50:50)30-hectare facility, with the harvest anticipated in the first half of this year.
Australian production is being ramped up near Perth with the usual caveat that the location of the production sites remains fairly secret.
Medlab Clinical (ASX: MDC)
Medlab Clinical has created the world’s most advanced CBD and THC-based drug NanaBis for treating cancer patients in intractable pain.
Canadian THC:CBD cannabis oil supplier Aphria began shipping the oil to Medlab’s approved Melbourne facilities in October for manufacturing.
Medlab is manufacturing the THC:CBD with its Nanocelle delivery system which uses a special atomising spray to administer the sub-micron particles via the mouth, enabling swifter and more potent absorption into the bloodstream.
The first patient dose of NanaBis is scheduled for early March in the world’s first clinical trial of its kind at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital.
The company has also developed CBD-based NanaBidial for treating nausea, vomiting and seizures caused by chemotherapy.
Medlab has a variety of other products on the boil, including drugs to treat depression and obesity and the use of Nanocelle as a more efficient delivery system for a variety of off-patent medications including statins.
Algae.Tec (ASX: AEB)
A little more diversified than some of the other players here, Algae.Tec is investigating using waste carbon dioxide to produce plant products commercially, including medicinal grade cannabis, algae based nutraceuticals, biofuels and animal feed and aquaculture.
It has extensive expertise in sealed system plant production using carbon dioxide and limited amounts of water and is aiming to bring this expertise to bear in the efficient production of cannabis.
Algae teamed up with Queensland Bauxite’s 55%-owned subsidiary Medical Cannabis in late December to develop cannabis-based products for animals.
Medical Cannabis is providing Algae with its THC Delta 9 cannabis cultivars for Algae to establish a breeding program to produce stock for veterinary medications, supplements and animal therapeutics.
Queensland Bauxite claims the agreement positions Algae as one Australia’s few cannabis companies to have a legal plant source and access to genetics, and hands on experience.
Algae plans to fast-track its product research and development with a view to having them ready for market by the end of the year.
Queensland Bauxite (ASX: QBL)
No, that is not a misprint, Queensland Bauxite has a 55% stake in Australian unlisted company Medical Cannabis Limited, which is in addition to its existing businesses of mining the aluminium precursor bauxite.
And it has really helped to kick along the company’s share price.
A New York based institutional investor was attracted by the deal and the ultimate aim is to float Medical Cannabis on the share market as a separate entity.
Medical Cannabis aims to be a leading cannabis manufacturing company in Australia and has teamed up with multiple industry stakeholders to realise this plan.
In early December, Medical Cannabis began hemp food production and farming for its Vitahemp product suite which is due out this month.
The company has also inked a contract to establish a joint venture with US chemists who’ve put together cannabis-based pain relief pills that can be produced cheaper than alternatives such as Humira which can cost at least A$35,000 per annum.
As part of the joint venture, the pills will be created to ease pain for short and extended periods.
In late December, Medical Cannabis also teamed up with Algae.Tec to develop cannabis-based veterinary medications, supplements and animal therapeutics.
Stemcell United (ASX: SCU)
Another fairly left field entrant in this list is Stemcell United, which is aiming to buy a stake in Israeli cannabis company iCAN Israel.
While the company claims its expertise in plant stem cells makes the cannabis market a natural extension, there have been questions from the ASX about whether the company will need to get the backing of shareholder and perhaps make other changes to comply with listing rules, which has been a problem for several companies trying to change their business into cannabis.
In late September, Stemcell reported “king of Cannabis” Nevil Schoenmakers had terminated his consulting agreement with the company. However, Stemcell claimed it was still planning to expand into the medicinal cannabis market and discussions with the ASX were ongoing.
At the time of writing, no further news was available.
Zelda Therapeutics (ASX: ZLD)
Zelda Therapeutics is developing a range of cannabinoid-based formulations to treat medical conditions with perhaps the most exciting an observation autism trial in Chile.
That trial demonstrated successful results for treating the core symptoms of autism with medicinal cannabis extracts that Zelda is planning on taking into full scale clinical trials.
Results showed that in a cohort of 21 patients, cannabis extracts were significantly more effective than conventional medicines used, including atypical antipsychotics, and these extracts were well tolerated by the patients overall.
Since then, Zelda has also teamed up with a US children’s hospital to begin a paediatric observational autism study to build on the Chilean research.
Zelda will also investigate the use of medicinal cannabis in chronic insomnia sufferers with the trial due to begin by March.
The Hydroponics Company (ASX: THC)
With the highly appropriate ticker THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis), The Hydroponics Company’s subsidiary Canndeo has been granted a medicinal cannabis licence by the Office of Drug Control.
The licence authorises the cultivation and growth of cannabis plants in Australia for medicinal purposes and Canndeo has applied for a manufacturing licence and is awaiting approval which is anticipates receiving imminently.
Canndeo has scheduled to kick off its pilot cannabis growing program at its facility in Queensland by June and will begin importing medicinal cannabis product from European partner Endoca early this year which will be eligible for prescribing under the TGA’s Special Access Scheme.
Canndeo operates under a pharmaceutical model with a focus on the end-to-end supply of medicinal cannabis products.
As such, it will launch its Medicinal Cannabis Clinics program in the near future which will provide professional education and training for referring physicians and patients. The program will also collect patient data to support future programs.
Canndeo seeks to meet demand through its own local Australian supply and by importing products.
The Hydroponics Company also plans to supply recreational cannabis in Canada through subsidiary Crystal Mountain Dragon Vision.
EVE Investments (ASX: EVE)
EVE Investments backs entrepreneurs and entered the medicinal cannabis space via a 50% interest in Meluka Health, which produced Australia’s first organic hemp seed honey in November.
Meluka Health’s wholly-owned subsidiary Medic Honey combined hemp seed and raw honey to develop the product, which Eve claims contains protein, essential fat and vitamins.
The hemp seed honey will be sold under Meluka Health’s brand and was anticipated to be ready for distribution by the end of last year.
Eve Investments entered a binding agreement to take a 50% interest in Meluka Health for A$1.49 million in May this year.
Jenbrook owns the other 50% stake in Meluka Health and has a certified organic melaleuca tea tree farm, which it developed to harvest and sell into the growing global tea tree market.
Jenbrook also brings to the joint venture its established businesses throughout the value chain, including its US distributor Naturally Australian Products.
Chapmans Limited (ASX: CHP)
Another investment vehicle Chapmans Limited owns 50% of Australian-based MJ Life Sciences, which aims to become leading medicinal cannabis holding and investment company.
MJ Life Sciences has a 49.99% stake in Caziwell Inc which owns the US medicinal cannabis brand Aunt Zelda’s.
Leading Australian medicinal cannabis figures Harry Karelis, Jason Peterson and Dr Stewart Washer founded MJ Life Sciences with one or all of them having some representation with other pot stocks including Auscann, Zelda, CannPal and CliniCann.
According to Chapmans, MJ Life Sciences is on the hunt for further medicinal cannabis assets and plans to list on the ASX sometime this year.
Bod Australia (ASX: BDA)
Bod Australia is working with the Swiss herbal extract company Linnea to extract a full spectrum of compounds from cannabis plants, which it thinks will be more effective and reliable in treating patients than current extraction methods.
Linnea and Bod are also developing cannabis-based formulas for a new cosmetics range, which Bod plans to launch this year. Products will include serums, foam-based creams and balms that are combined with Linnea’s NioSkin ingredient to enhance skin penetration.
In early January, Bod teamed up with iX Biopharma to use Bod’s cannabis oils and raw materials in iX Biopharma’s WaferiX product which it created to dissolve under a person’s tongue and released active compounds without residue or taste.
Bod’s medicinal cannabis extracts will be manufactured in the WaferiX and undergo phase one clinical trials to develop therapeutic products.
The company plans to fast-track the trials to reduce time to market and save on costs.
Botanix Pharmaceuticals (ASX: BOT)
Botanix is a skin care company and is conducting trials using cannabidiol-based drugs to treat acne, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis.
The company’s BTX 1503 drug is thought to be excellent at treating acne in teenagers including acne that has become resistant to antibiotics.
According to Botanix, this is the first time its drug has shown antibacterial activity and it has filed a patent to protect its discovery.
Scientific data suggest the BTX 1503 may inhibit excessive oil production in the skin, as well as potentially reducing inflammation and bacterial infection.
So far, there have been few side effects from the treatment and enrolment of the next trial was finished in late December, with study results anticipated by the end of March.
Once this current study is finished, Botanix plans to file an investigational new drug application with the FDA in the US to carry out a multi-centre phase two safety and efficacy study in the country.
The company claims its BTX 1503’s ability to treat all acne factors in one product offers a “significant’ opportunity in the prescription acne market which is currently estimated at A$4.5 billion.
BTX 1503 contains no psychotropic ingredients and its development is timely, given a range of negative side effects with some other acne treatments.
Botanix is also researching the efficacy of its CBD-based BTX 1204 drug on atopic dermatitis.
Elixinol Global (ASX: EXL)
Elixinol Global is another new pot stock entrant after commencing trading on the ASX earlier this month.
The company debuted on the ASX at a A$1 per share offer price to raise A$20 million. The company’s share price surged more than 75% to peak at A$1.75 on its first day of trade.
As part of its offer, Elixinol acquired Elixinol US, Elixinol Australia and Hemp Foods Australia, which specialise manufacturing various hemp and medicinal cannabis-based products for US, Australian and other global markets.
Elixinol US has been generating revenue for a few years selling its CBD-based nutraceutical products, while Hemp Foods Australia achieved its first profit during the 2017 financial year.
Meanwhile, Elixinol Australia is a start up which aims to manufacture and sell cannabis-based products for the Australian market.
eSense-Lab (ASX: ESE)
Based in Israel eSense-Lab has created the world’s first 100% reformulated cannabis terpene profiles for use in a variety of products. It has 10 available terpene formulations with a further 20 under development.
eSense has several collaborative agreements regarding the use of its cannabis terpenes for use in a variety of products.
The company is working with US-based Wild Rogue Extracts on developing and marketing a new line of CBD-based products including vapours and vape pens (oils and concentrates), tinctures, salves and other topical applications and concentrates.
eSense finalised its beta cannabis terpene infused chocolate product in mid-November with Healthy Chocolate Florida.
According to eSense, the collaboration with Healthy Chocolate Florida has resulted in an “optimum terpenes/chocolate ratio” for the nutraceutical food and beverage market. The duo is working on the product’s consumer requirements, with this due to be finished by June.
In mid-December, eSense reported it had executed a memorandum of understanding with Australian brewer Young Henry’s Brewing Company to develop a cannabis terpene infused beer product line.
Lifespot Health (ASX: LSH)
Lifespot Health is in a joint venture with Seng Vital Germany to integrate that company’s Cannamed vaporizer into Lifespot’s BodyTel platform which is a smartphone app.
Bodytel would enable advanced medical diagnostic and dosage monitoring and fingerprint scanning, which is seen as an important part of developing the medicinal cannabis industry.
Inhalation of vaporised cannabis products is seen as having far fewer health risks than combustion or smoking of the drug.
The aim is to produce a drug to ease cancer related pain in animals.
Animal health drugs have a faster route to market and with dogs and cats now living longer, more of them are dying of cancer.
Pet owners are eager to help their animals and existing pain treatments come with a range of unwanted side effects, leaving plenty of potential for an animal cannabis treatment if it is found to be effective.
CannPal debuted on the ASX in October last year and plans to begin its pharmacokinetic and safety clinical trials using its CPAT-01 drug in the first quarter of this year. The study has three phases with results from the first two due by June this year.
The European Medicines Agency granted small and medium size enterprise status to CannPal and its research partner Klifovet AG in late December. CannPal claims this status will afford its administrative and financial assistance in developing its products and open up communication lines with the agency to progress gaining EMA and FDA approvals for CPAT-01.
Atlas Pearls (ASX: ATP)
Atlas Pearls’ 50%-owned subsidiary Essential Oils of Tasmania has teamed up with LeafCann and the duo is seeking a medicinal cannabis licence to grow cannabis in Tasmania.
The idea is that each partner will bring skills to the deal, with Atlas proficient at growing perfumes and oils in Tasmania.
The jointly owned subsidiary company Cannabinoid Extracts Australia will pursue licences to develop a supply chain of medicinal cannabis solutions.
In late December Atlas Pearls announced it had altered its name from Atlas Pearls and Perfumes to reflect the company’s focus on pearls.
Capital Mining (ASX: CMY)
After a brief foray into cannabis stocks, Capital Mining shares were suspended from the ASX from August 14 after the ASX scrutinised its decision to change from an exploration company to cannabis play.
In mid-November Capital reported its would discontinue its medical cannabis investment opportunities and is finalising an exit.