Switzerland and its rapidly proliferating adult-use cannabis pilot framework is fast becoming the centre of attention for many European cannabis stakeholders and policy makers.
As other countries struggle to see their ambitions for cannabis reform become a reality, with international legal obligations bringing them back down to earth, Switzerland has been quietly pushing ahead with its roll out.
With Germany’s ‘Pillar 2’ expected to be largely modelled around the Swiss framework, an increasing number of German businesses are looking to Switzerland for insight on how they can hit the ground running once it’s launched.
Last month, Europe’s first THC adult-use cannabis trial, Weed Care, successfully entered its second phase, seeing the number of participants more than double, but this represents just the tip of the iceberg of pilot studies set to launch imminently.
Weed Care Phase 2
Following a turbulent start, Switzerland’s inaugural cannabis trial has now significantly expanded.
On July 28, 2023, the Basel-Stadt Health Department published an update on the progress of the study, which is due to run until July 2025.
During the first six months of the study, only 180 of the total 374 participants have been able to access cannabis products.
According to its official website, this study design is the ‘gold standard of research’, allowing researchers to compare potential changes in consumption behaviour and the health of the first group, who have had access since January, with the second group, who now have access.
During the six months, in which participants have been required to fill out questionnaires regarding their consumer behaviour and health every two months, ‘no adverse effects’ have been reported.
Of the six products supplied by Swiss manufacturer Pure Production, including two hashish and four flower products, participants have reportedly favoured the higher-THC products in both categories.
Pure Production’s Head of Innovation and Regulation, Marc Brüngger, told Business of Cannabis that this early preference may have been influenced by the quality of the lower-THC flower available in the earlier stages of the study.
“We’ve observed that people go crazy for the high-THC flowers. For the balanced flowers, we had to start with milled products, so that’s a bit of a bias. I cannot tell you what would have happened if we would have also started with nice balanced-ratio flowers.
“But don’t forget that in the CBD market for example, one of the most sold products in CBD is a milled product, so I’m not so sure if it’s because of that the product’s not getting sold as much as the high THC.
“But for the two hashish products that we have, we sell the strong one around three times the amount than the weak ones. My guess is it will continue like this.”
According to the update, which comes ahead of an interim report in January 2024, 13kg of Pure’s products were sold via nine pharmacies in the first five months of the study.
Mr Brüngger said this level of consumption was in line with his expectations, and he expects this to continue with the second group.
“We’re super happy. I mean, we’ve always assumed that study participants will consume roughly 20 grams a month and that seemed to be the average.
“Early on [the participants] tried to test everything, so they consumed a bit more than 20 grams. But after two or three months, they know the products and then they just order the stuff they like. So it went down to an average of around 20 grams.”
At the end of this month, another much larger study is set to be launched in Zurich, aiming to ‘examine the effects of purchasing selected cannabis products from controlled cultivation under regulated conditions’.
Crucially, this much larger study will also compare the ‘different models of procurement’, enabling its 2,100 participants to choose to buy cannabis either from a social club, pharmacy or drug counselling service.
The study, which Business of Cannabis understands was also pushed back for half a year by the local authorities, will feature 10 social clubs where participants can also consume cannabis, 10 pharmacies and one drug advice centre.
It will be supplied by Swissextract and Pure Production, with Mr Brüngger stating he has been pushing for the start date to be pushed back by another few weeks in order to allow the freshly grown products to ‘rest, harden and ferment’, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
This start date has also raised concerns among some of the participating suppliers, including Didi’s Social Club, which will be one of the 10 social clubs included in the study.
According to local news publication NZZ, the association is reportedly waiting for a building permit to install a required ventilation system for its consumption lounge, which may not be ready until October.
However, the study’s project manager, Barbara Burri, has reportedly assured the club it can begin selling without the completed smoking room.
While the study itself is funded by the city of Zurich, the social clubs must self finance, meaning they largely depend on goodwill and donations to cover start-up costs.
Another study is set to be launched in three cities, including Lucerne, Biel and the Swiss capital Berne, featuring another 1,091 participants.
The study, which has reportedly been 10 years in the making, will effectively be a randomised control trial (RCT), comparing one ‘control’ group of users who will continue to purchase products on the black market with those able to purchase controlled products legally through pharmacies.
Mr Brüngger explains that the study, which is also being supplied by Pure Production, will also explore the effectiveness and safety of different methods of cannabis consumption.
Pure is reportedly producing a number of different products, including an e-liquid, and an ‘edible’ product which is akin to a ‘microdosing spray’, which enables users to receive the effects much faster than with other edibles such as gummies, meaning the ‘danger of overdose is much less’.
SCRIPT will reportedly build on another study which used ‘artificial lungs’ to determine where the least amount of pollutants will be produced and how much THC and CBD actually makes it into the body when ingested through smoking joints with and without carbon filters, and also via e-liquids and vape cartridges.
“What they find out is that the best consumption (not including edibles) comes from e-liquids.
“It has the highest efficiency; all the THC that is in the liquid actually goes into your body. It has a higher efficiency compared to a joint, where you actually blow out a lot of the THC.
“We actually are selling the best recipes and the least harmful products in that study.”
He added that Pure has just started to grow products for the study, due to begin in November this year.
Another two trials are set to begin this year in Geneva and Lausanne. It is understood that harvests for the products are due to be completed in October, and trials will start around November or December 2023.