Oliver Horn is the CEO of ASX-listed cannabis company Elixinol Global, having previously led vitamin and supplement brand Swisse Wellness.
Oliver sat down with Cannabiz (admittedly, through the magic of Zoom) to share what first got him interested in cannabis, how to market a product that can’t be marketed, and the future of the industry in Australia.
Cannabiz: How did you get into the cannabis industry?
Oliver Horn: I started to develop a real passion for wellbeing in my 40s. When I joined Swisse as a CEO and managing director, that wellness environment really, really suited me. I had a personal fascination with that topic.
Swisse has products in every single wellbeing and supplements category you can imagine, and one of the new frontiers that we explored was CBD – so I was able to get early knowledge into what it can do.
So when it was time to change careers and do something different, I really wanted to join and be in the forefront of CBD development and join a much smaller business, albeit with this huge potential that CBD brings and the global reach that CBD has.
So with my background from the supplements and wellbeing industry, taking that to Elixinol was a real attraction for me. Shaping the industry, seeing how consumers see and consume CBD and how they interact with it; I find it all fascinating. So I wanted to jump to somewhere that was at the forefront and be on the vanguard of a new, defining wellbeing trend.
Did you have any prior misconceptions around cannabis, or has it always been a positive thing?
I think as with all of us, the cannabis story comes from the hippie, ’70s, holistic health space, and you can’t shake that image. You can’t shake that image of somebody smoking pot in a skate park, you can’t help that sentiment and the stigma that comes with that.
So I think that’s a journey that many consumers take before they realize the clinical data and the health benefits that cannabis may have. Part of our challenge as an industry is to change perception around that. In many European countries and in America, they’ve changed that perception already, but here we’ve still got an uphill battle [in Australia].
There are so many different names for what is essentially the same plant. Do you think that might be part of the problem?
I think it’s quite confusing. I think you’re right. You talk about CBD, medicinal cannabis. What is hemp? What’s hemp derived from? What’s marijuana? Is it from the marijuana plant? And they’re both cannabis plants, but one has less THC than the other. And then there’s THC in itself… what does THC stand for?
So it is a pretty complex concept to understand, and I think it’s still highly technical. That aspect of THC, the hallucinogenic compounds that are found in some of the plants, it’s another fear factor that many people have, because they think: “Oh my God. Will I fail a drug test? What am I putting in my body? Am I going to get high? Am I going to get addicted?” All that stuff.
There’s no concern if you take the right product. But consumers need to overcome that, because over decades, over generations, it was portrayed as a drug. And now it’s making its way into the mainstream as a supplement. It’s a very natural suspicion from consumers: “How can a drug be something healthy for me?” So we have to change that.
Without outwardly being able to advertise the product under the current guidelines, how do you start to get around some of those challenges? How do you start to push that education out there?
I think at the moment, the industry is making really good moves. We are in a Schedule 4 environment, and under Schedule 4, most of the medicinal cannabis products that are being prescribed are through the TGA’s Special Access Scheme.
This means that health practitioners who have exhausted all the other options of registered medicines can prescribe unregistered medicines through the Special Access Scheme, and that’s how medicinal cannabis is currently prescribed.
We’ve seen over 50,000 prescriptions have been made so far on that Special Access Scheme, and it’s those doctors and practitioners who are prescribing that are educating the consumer. So they’re really our voice of the industry at this stage. Patient by patient, it creates a bit of a snowball effect, and it’s really quickly gaining momentum.
We’ve seen that the monthly prescriptions are going up and up, under the Special Access Scheme, and really importantly, patients are sharing success stories around that, which is quite incredible.
So the word of mouth is accelerating, and I think we’re sort of at that first phase of getting social acceptance. Then what we’re really excited about is that if the TGA implements their proposal on de-scheduling Schedule 3, then it’ll be about going into the pharmacy network. Having CBD available over the counter is then the next wave of bringing it into the mainstream.
So the marketing is really focused at the moment on health professionals: educating them, and giving them the support that they need to make the right decision.