Nov. 21 (UPI) -- California-based cannabis oil maker HempMeds has opened an office in Brazil to expand the South American medical marijuana market -- which experts say could be worth $1.4 billion annually.
The new office in Sao Paulo will support physician training because Brazil controls cannabis oil (CBD) as a medicine and doctors must prescribe it -- unlike the United States where it's considered a supplement, HempMeds Vice President Caroline Heinz told UPI Wednesday.
HempMeds will host the first doctor training next month in Brazil, where cannabis oil is increasingly used to treat epilepsy and there are waiting lists for education, she said.
The company already has about 3,000 clients in Brazil -- or about half the total number of patients using government-approved CBD oil for medical purposes. The total number of users, including the ones that tap the illegal market, is believed to be much larger, Heinz added.
HempMeds is the first company to export cannabis oil to Brazil. The Sao Paulo office opened Nov. 13.
In many cases, the Brazilian government helps patients buy the medicine. Heinz estimates as much as half the revenue it obtains from Brazil comes from the government.
If laws changed to allow cultivation and production in Brazil, the cost of cannabis oil would be much lower, as export costs from the U.S. and fluctuating exchange rates contribute to make it more expensive.
"That is our main goal," Heinz said. "Brazil has great natural resources, good soil. But as of today the law does not permit us to do it."
Brazil allows the use of CBD and THC to treat epilepsy, but it's strictly regulated. HempMeds products contain a maximum 0.3 percent THC, which is the chemical that produces the "high." Other suppliers in Brazil offer products with higher THC levels.
In Brazil, the average cost for one syringe of CBD is $200, and the average epilepsy patient needs three per month, Heinz said. New production in Brazil would drive the price down.
"Brazil is the fourth biggest pharmaceutical market in the world. We have the big piece of the (medical cannabis) market because we opened it," Heinz said.
The market potential for medical cannabis has yet to surge. According to figures provided by Heinz, there are several million epileptics in Brazil -- and patients with other ailments like autism and chronic pain could also benefit from the product.
According to a report by New Frontier Data, the Brazilian medical cannabis market could grow to $1.4 billion annually if CBD products are approved for other uses.
Two year ago, HempsMeds opened an office in Mexico, where CBD is also controlled as a medicine. It also has offices in Europe and Canada, and plans to open one in Argentina in the near future, Heinz said.