Kombucha has taken the wellness world by storm, but Oz Medicann founder John Leith is firmly invested in bringing the beverage to the world of cannabis via his hemp subsidiary, Hemp Oz.
Hemp kombucha, the brand’s signature drink, has already been featured on SBS’ Medicine or Myth with promising early-stage trial results.
Leith told Cannabiz how his journey with hemp began four years ago when his niece was diagnosed with epilepsy. Not long after that, Leith himself was diagnosed with type two diabetes. It was then that he came across cannabis as a medicine.
“I was overseas and was recommended to take hemp with a few other herbs as well as kombucha for my type two diabetes. I took it, came back [to Australia], and discovered that it was illegal in 2016. My niece is now in recovery, but she was struggling very badly with her epilepsy. The only thing that worked for her was medicinal cannabis oil.
“If you’d have asked me a number of years ago if I would have been interested in [cannabis] as a business or even been involved in it, I would have laughed at you, because it would have been far from what my background was,” he said.
“I wasn’t in the beverage business and I didn’t have any experience with it. Beverages and Hemp Oz came along because it was something that was recommended to me in terms of putting a concoction together to support my type two diabetes. I did that and, actually, it worked. It reversed my type two diabetes.
Leith’s decision to enter the cannabis industry was a direct result of seeing the tangible benefits that the plant could provide patients, including what he describes as the “incredible recovery” of those close to him.
“I was concerned that there were a lot of other people who could benefit from this, but didn’t have the access. At that time, four years ago, it was even more difficult to get access. So we have come a long way.”
After making the decision to push forward with the creation of Hemp Oz, a subsidiary of the Oz Medicann Group, Leith and his team set about bringing on board an in-house lawyer to discuss and eventually advocate for the legality of hemp and hemp products.
“That essentially is the reason why we were first to come on to the market with a beverage that was infused with hemp for consumption, but we still had to wait for a year before that happened,” he said.
Medicine or myth?
Leith’s kombucha was put through its paces via an independent scientific trial broadcast on SBS’ show Medicine or Myth?, led by Dr Charlie Teo. The trial, which looked at the effects of hemp kombucha on type 2 diabetes, had promising initial results.
“That went on for about a year. The idea was that if they like the sound of what your product does as a medicine, then they will back it to go through a clinical trial. They invested their money to put it through a clinical trial and announced at the end of the program that the clinical trial for Hemp Oz kombucha worked.
“While it was an early-stage clinical trial, it was conducted on real patients, which was quite nail-biting – because while something works for you, it might not work for others. But we were delighted that it actually worked.
“We then invested in further scientific testing with the University of Western Sydney to make sure that what’s on the bottle is what it can actually do for you – so we’ve been quite heavily invested in research with that particular product.
“We don’t call ourselves a beverage company. We are a medical company that has a beverage section, but the beverage isn’t just for a taste-good factor, it’s really about function, performance, and it has to have a level of efficacy, trials attached to it, and some science behind it.”
Building a sustainable business
Oz Medicann Group has three divisions, one of which is Hemp Oz. As Leith explains, part of Hemp Oz’s purpose within the wider business is to create a revenue stream that can be used to support the patient access side of the business, and to be able to donate to charitable causes.
The business partners with organisations including medicinal cannabis advocacy body United in Compassion, with five cents per sale going towards supporting improved patient access.
“[Hemp Oz] does very well. We’re a private company, and we don’t have the big green dollar figures in our eyes – the whole idea of our business is based on providing patients with more affordable access to medicinal cannabis,” said Leith.
To do that, you have to be smart with where you’re going to create revenue from. It made sense to create products that were within the same family, and that would actually fit in with the strategy of prevention, awareness, and treatment. Our Hemp Oz division is about prevention.
“We didn’t want to take the big end of town’s money or investment dollars. We wanted to be able to stand on our own two feet, and we wanted to be able to continue with the focus of patients being at the front of everything that we do, and that has worked out really well.
“We have a revenue-generating business model. It’s quite difficult to get to that part when you’re in the cannabis industry, what with the regulations and what you can and can’t do.
“So it was important for us to have Hemp Oz, and to create a brand that people can trust, and that would continue generating revenue while we are spending lots of money on the medicinal solutions.”