Aphria RX GmbH pioneering cannabis for medical purposes
Cannabis plants for medical purposes, grown by Aphria RX GmbH on an indoor plantation in Neumünster, are thriving. Aphria RX is one of three firms with a licence to grow medicinal cannabis in Germany, and with stringent safety requirements. The plants grow behind 24-centimetre-thick, reinforced concrete walls, guarded by around 400 cameras, while motion detectors and security gates prevent trespassers.
Mother plants from Canada
"These measures are needed to prevent external access. Medicinal cannabis is classified as a narcotic and requires special protection," said Thorsten Kolisch, Executive Manager of Aphria RX GmbH. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tilray, a listed corporation headquartered in Leamington, Canada. The mother plants stem from the North America and form the basis for Germany's first and largest cannabis production for medical purposes.
From seedling to flower
Three different cannabis varieties are produced on 12,000 square metres. Kolisch pointed out: "Doctors prescribe them for patients who have undergone treatmen for multiple sclerosis or chronic pain." The health insurer covers the costs. But doctors can also prescribe the medical product for private payers as an alternative to strong painkillers.
The hemp plants are produced using innovative technology. The computer-monitored plants grow in three co-ordinated areas. "The first is reserved for the mother plants from which we obtain the seedlings. The next area is called the nursery, where the young shoots are nurtured for 14 days in special conditions to develop roots. Then they are transferred to the flowering chamber. All in all, our plants need about 65-75 days to reach maturity," Kolisch commented. The plants are then processed to meet pharmaceutical standards, dried, packed and stored in a secure vault.
Aphria RX simulates and optimises the natural conditions for production from germ-free mineral wool as a topsoil substitute to air quality and lighting conditions, - generated by LED lamps adjusted to specific spectral colours. Water is desalinated, post-processed with UV light and enriched with trace elements and fertiliser.
Annual production of 1.1 tonnes
"Usually, plants grow 'as they will', depending on the weather and soil conditions. However, we can control the conditions in our indoor plantation and ensure precise, consistent quality," said Kolisch. Aphria RX produces 1.1 tonnes of medicinal cannabis per annum in that way. Although the production capacity in Neumünster is by no means exhausted, the cannabis agency stipulates the production quantities.
Cannabis was only approved in Germany in 2017 for purely medical-therapeutic purposes and was then imported. Two years later, licences were granted for controlled cultivation in Germany. In July, Aphria RX delivered its the first harvest to pharmacies all over Germany, making the company a pioneer of domestic cultivation.
Studies to strengthen public acceptance
Naturally, Kolisch hopes to increase production. However, his attempts been thwarted due to uncertainties surrounding the medicinal plant. "Cannabis has been cultivated as a useful plant for a thousand years, but it is also highly complex and has still not been fully researched in all its facets." Evidence-based studies are needed that verify its medicinal effect, said Kolisch. That would go a long way towards greater public acceptance.