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Unhappy with the traditional treatment methods she learned in medical school, which did not resolve her patients’ chronic pain, neurosurgeon Patricia Montagner decided to search for other therapeutical methods. In 2015, she found medicinal cannabis.

Yes, the plant popularly known as marijuana can also be used as a treatment for many medical conditions. Of course, in quantities and safety standards that have nothing to do with recreational cannabis.

Montagner began to prescribe medical cannabis in 2016 and started to see some positively surprising results. After that initial experience, she decided to take several courses in the field – mainly abroad – and noticed a global problem: the shortage of doctors prescribing medical cannabis.

“I realized that I needed to pass on the knowledge I gained in the courses I did, so that more patients would have access to the benefits of therapeutic cannabis,” Montagner said. The neurosurgeon decided to become an entrepreneur and partnered with her brother Daniel Montagner to focus on medical education in the field.

In early 2020, the Montagners founded WeCann Academy, an edtech headquartered in Florianópolis, in the Brazilian southern state of Santa Catarina, that offers training in endocannabinoid medicine. The siblings invested a total of $80,000 to develop the platform, content curation and user experience.

Seven-week journey

WeCann Academy’s seven-week course is available in Portuguese, English and Spanish. Doctors around the world can join the live masterclasses with global leaders in endocannabinoid medicine and medicinal cannabis. In addition, students can keep up to date with recently published scientific studies in the field, and discuss clinical cases with more experienced colleagues.

The company also offers an interactive e-book with technical content to make the learning journey easier. The content is based on scientific evidence and experiences around the prescription process studied by a technical team of 22 experts from 10 countries – Brazil, Colombia, Spain, USA, Canada, Australia, Italy, Chile, Germany and Denmark.

The investment to become a student at WeCann Academy is around $1500. Upon completion of the training, students receive an international certification exclusive to doctors of various medical specialties. According to Montagner, the company uses the proceeds to support the startup’s operation and develop the course offerings for future students.

International community

In two years of operation, students from Brazil, the US, Latin America and Europe have graduated from WeCann Academy. In addition, groups from Asia and Oceania are interested in bringing the course to their territories. According to Montagner, WeCann is the only institution in Latin America that offers courses in the medicinal cannabis segment exclusively for doctors.

“We have a 9.6 Net Promoter Score (a customer loyalty and satisfaction measurement). Students love the methodology and promote the course themselves”, says the founder. By the way, I have a doctor friend who just finished the course, and she really can’t stop praising it.

The edtech’s digital community already has over 700 professionals who use the platform to share ideas about therapeutic applications and success stories with the use of medical cannabis. Last year, WeCann Academy taught three courses to a total of 250 students, and achieved a turnover of over 1 million Brazilian reais ($200,000). The first class of 2022 had 400 students – the company expects to boost that number to 1,000 by the end of the year.

The company’s next steps are to develop an app to facilitate students’ access to the course and to launch the physical version of the e-book. “We very healthy in financial terms and never needed a loan. Our focus is on reinvesting in the company to scale as quickly as possible. For now, we do not need external funding, but are open to receiving offers”, says the doctor.

The benefits of medical cannabis

In Brazil, cannabis-based treatments began to be prescribed for cases of epilepsy, chronic pain, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. The country is expanding the treatment to other diseases such as depression, anxiety and insomnia. According to Montagner, studies already show the effectiveness of the plant also for skin and gastrointestinal conditions.

Most medicinal cannabis patients use an oil that contains THC and CBD, usually placing a few drops under their tongue – the amount varies for each person. Cannabis oil prices in Brazil range from $20 to over $200. According to the Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa), companies in the sector will more than double their revenues, reaching $100 million in 2022, with at least 15 new products currently being analyzed by the agency.

In 2019, Anvisa established the requirements for companies to import and sell medical cannabis products in drugstores.

However, there is still a long way to go. “There is a lot of ignorance from doctors, public authorities and the population regarding the different uses of cannabis. Many still only associate the plant with recreational use and do not understand its therapeutic potential”, says Montagner. Hopefully, things will change soon. I’m now interested in investigating more about how medical cannabis might help reduce my anxiety. Such difficult times we are going through!

FURTHER READING: Brazilian cannabis accelerator The Green Hub readies new round to support global expansion

(translation by Gabriela Del Carmen)

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