A brand new cannabis industry is exploding right now in Switzerland. However, it’s rather different than its U.S counterpart.
Rather than growers and customers chasing the strongest strains, the Swiss legal cannabis industry is centred on strains with negligible levels of THC but high levels of CBD – otherwise known as hemp.
Expertly grown in hydroponic grow houses throughout the mountainous country, high-grade hemp is proving to be extremely popular among the Swiss population, despite its lack of psychoactive effects.
Is Cannabis Legal In Switzerland?
Whilst cannabis with THC content above 1% is still illegal – although minor possession (up to 10 grams) was decriminalized to a fine in 2012 – legal, over-the-counter sales of high-CBD cannabis are exploding, with more and more clean and bright dispensaries popping up in Zurich, Basel, Geneva, and beyond, as well as spreading to nearby Austria.
The legal cannabis boom is a result of an amendment to the Swiss Narcotics Act in 2011 that allowed cannabis with an average THC content of less than 1% to be grown. This amendment initially came about to loosen restrictions on the hemp fabric and cosmetic industries. The amendment went rather unnoticed for a number of years until, in 2016, a campaign from the customs office to collect tax on the small amounts of low-potency cannabis that was being sold served as a reminder to businesses that the government was condoning the sale of cannabis.
Subsequently, the number of retailers selling low-THC cannabis has risen to more than 140 from just a handful last year, with the customs office expecting revenue of around $25 million on legal sales of $100 million from cannabis in 2017, although the figure could be far higher if the boom continues.
“It started gradually last year, and then suddenly things went crazy in December 2016 and in 2017,” a spokesman for Switzerland’s Customs Agency in Berne told Reuters.
CBD-Rich Hemp As A Tobacco Substitute
The hemp buds – which are indistinguishable in sight and smell from ‘the real thing’ – are being given names like “Sweet Indoor Royal Flush” and “Tropical Forest”, packaged in aesthetically pleasing pouches and marketed as a tobacco substitute.
Although the carcinogenic risks associated with inhaling combusted plant material remains an issue, substituting tobacco, along with its myriad of added chemicals, for organically grown CBD-rich cannabis is undoubtedly a healthier option. And given the fact that, as is the case throughout much of Europe, many Swiss cannabis users smoke their herb alongside tobacco in the form of joints, the use of hemp as a tobacco substitute may well prove to significantly lower cannabis users’ exposure to tobacco. Add to that the results of a small study that took place in 2013 which found that CBD reduces the consumption of cigarettes in smokers by up to 40%, and it seems that high-CBD hemp may also have some value in the cessation of tobacco use.
The Health Benefits of CBD
Then there are the many proven health benefits of CBD itself. The non-psychoactive cannabis derivative is known to be anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain-relieving), anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), neuroprotective, antipsychotic, and antiemetic (anti-nausea), antispasmodic (suppresses muscle spasms), and antiproliferative (prevents spread of malignant cells). This has seen it used in the treatment of a wide range of conditions, such as:
The substantial research on CBD also makes it a prime candidate to replace, or be used in conjunction with, a number of pharmaceutical drugs. A recent projection estimated that the pharmaceutical industry stands to lose $5 billion should cannabis be legalized across the U.S. Although this estimation does include high-THC varieties being legalized, there may well be implications for the Swiss pharmaceutical industry of a legal cannabis market.
High-THC Strains and Mental Health
While there is a great amount of research on the therapeutic effects of cannabis, there are also a number of studies that have linked consumption of high-THC cannabis to mental health problems such as schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. No matter your stance on this controversial subject, the fact that potent strains of cannabis can lead to anxiety and paranoia is far from a contentious position. However, CBD has also been shown to reduce the negative effects associated with THC.
With that being the case, the legal cannabis industry in Switzerland may also be inadvertently helping cannabis users to negate the unwanted effects of consuming high amounts of THC. It is yet to be seen whether the widespread availability of CBD-rich cannabis will indeed have a noticeable effect on the mental health of those who use it.
A World’s First
The burgeoning legal cannabis industry in Switzerland is a first-of-its-kind anywhere in the world. Although hemp cultivation (with less than 0.2% THC) is legal just about everywhere in Europe, only EU-certified seeds are permitted to be grown in most countries. These seeds are primarily grown for industrial purposes, and more recently for making CBD products such as oils and supplements.
Switzerland is breaking new ground, however, and it remains to be seen what effects the industry will have; whether it’s negative repercussions on an already shrinking tobacco industry, less reliance on pharmaceuticals, or even a reduction in mental health issues. What we do know is that high-grade hemp is very popular and sales are predicted to increase.
If anything, the growing trend in Switzerland for high-CBD strains does shine a light on a whole other side of cannabis – one devoid of stereotypes and accusations that users are merely chasing a ‘high’. It also gives credence to the medicinal uses of cannabis and, if all goes well, could trailblaze the way for other countries to implement legal cannabis industries of their own.[Image credit- Pixabay]