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Avida Global’s Heidi Whitman on building a new UK industry

Home » Avida Global’s Heidi Whitman on building a new UK industry

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Cannabis Wealth speaks to Heidi Whitman, the global strategy director at Avida Global about CBD, animal health and building a new UK industry.

When it came to getting her start in the cannabis industry, Heidi Whitman was introduced to the health benefits of the plant by her father. Based in California, she was perfectly placed to witness the start of the cannabis movement and also the CBD brand explosion.

“My father was an avid cannabis smoker his whole life but it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I realised he was self-medicating,” she said.

“He was diagnosed with a brain tumour called glioblastoma and lived for another 11 months. During his illness, he was at a hospital that would not allow cannabis which he needed for his own mental health.

“It was always lingering in the back of my head that there has to be something more medicinal to what my father was doing. Although it was illegal and not accepted by the public at that time. Colorado started to open up and I started to realise that there was an industry here.”

Heidi Whitman: Avida Global profile

Heidi began to realise that she was seeing the start of the industry in California where she grew up.

“I started to see it develop by watching the grow houses that were actually people’s homes with holes in the ceiling and lights. I watched the birth of the movement happening in America,” she said.

“I saw the ‘green doctors’ on Venice beach that would walk around asking if you had a headache and if you would like to come and get a license for cannabis in a dispensary.”

When those dispensaries later developed into CBD stores, Heidi and her husband Nathan became determined to break into the industry. They began to research cannabinoids by taking trips to backyard growers, those who were extracting at home and cannabis events. Cannabis wasn’t Heidi’s main career focus, but she saw an opportunity to combine her experience as a veterinary technician with CBD.

“I was a veterinary technician for many years and an animal welfare advocate. I wanted to see if we could really do this for animals so we started to create ranges for them,” she said.

The first brand she developed was The Naked Leaf which focused on products for both animals and people. She wanted to create a lifestyle brand for animal lovers who were focused on providing the best for their pets, often tending to forget about themselves.

Heidi said: “I wanted to create something that could be for you and your pet, for the horse and for the rider. As an equestrian myself, I have one horse with COPDA and another with osteoarthritis.”

She added: “We created the range simply so we could address our own personal needs. We used Colorado-based hemp oil after doing our research to find out the right supplier then we landed in the UK and wanted to launch. However, about three months after our research was done, the Veterinary Medicines directorate (VMD) published its guidance on CBD animal products in the UK.”

In September 2018, the VMD announced its firm stance that products containing CBD are veterinary medicines and should be regulated as such. To date no products have been approved for use.

Heidi reacted quickly by reaching out to her US contacts to launch at the American Equine Practitioners conference in San Francisco instead. The reaction was phenomenal, and the brand sold to a large pharmaceutical and veterinary audience.

“We used it as an educational platform because that’s exactly where we realised the gap was in the industry. That was my foundation into the cannabis space,” she explained.

The lack of the pet CBD industry in the UK is unusual given the success of the US market. The global CBD pet market size was estimated at $125.00 million in 2020. With the increase in pet adoptions during Covid, this figure could well increase for brands offering health products.

Heidi said: “It gets classified as a drug in the veterinary world in the UK. There is a prescribing cascade that is allowed and if one drug doesn’t work then you move to another, but cannabinoids don’t fit on the cascade. I’m hoping to change that.”

In addition to developing her successful CBD brands, Heidi is also the global strategy director at Avida Global, a producer of high quality, medicinal cannabis oil.

“In my current role, we are making some efforts to see what can be done to educate veterinarians, but in the meantime, it is allowed in Latin America and Switzerland,” she said.

“It’s mind-boggling that we test so many products on animals sadly with the aim of getting humans to utilise them. However, we are now saying animals can’t use the end result.”

As an animal lover with three dogs of her own, Heidi has seen the effect that CBD can have on animals first hand.

She said: “I have an epileptic dog and his neurologist prescribed cannabis oil. We had an MRI done to see what was causing his seizures and we haven’t had one since last May – yet I never put him on a pharmaceutical drug.”

Having seen the start of the US market, and the development of a cannabis industry in the UK, where does Heidi see potential room for improvement?

“I think there is a lapse in legislation, education and hitting those demographics properly,” she explained.

“I think the medicinal and recreational markets are quite crossed in the US because you can go to the dispensary and pick up a 99 per cent THC resin, so you can self-medicate in the US very easily. I think the UK is watching that and building a more medicinal market here.”

Heidi continued: “I think patient access should be 100 per cent improved which is what we are doing at Avida Global. I’m excited to see the growth of different delivery methods and innovations but I think the UK is a little more cautious which is sometimes a hindrance to the progression.”

She does feel that lobbying will change political minds, especially with scientific backing.

“The industry is so dedicated to improving education and getting everyone to speak one language from border forces to the prescribers. That’s what I’m really focused on as the strategy director for Avida is to get that language out there,” she said.

When it comes to her proudest moment in the industry, Heidi feels that the ability to directly influence lives means the most to her.

“I had one woman who had been an artist with severe scoliosis that was able to paint her room, and I’ve had many animals come off medication and be able to function properly,” she said.

“It’s also about doing something to leave a legacy behind for your kids. My stepchildren will know that their stepmum has been working to help other people and animals.”

She added: “That’s why I was really put on this earth. I found my niche of being a plant-based person and loving humans and animals alike. It allows me to find solutions for their health which is why I get up in the morning.”

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