A 2018 study published in the British Medical Journal Open of 640 Australian doctors found that more than two thirds of full-time GPs had been questioned by their patients about medicinal cannabis. Healthcare professionals are also starting to come around, prescribing the drug for a range of applications, including anxiety management and the alleviation of chronic pain.
While marijuana is clearly becoming more popular as an alternative healthcare option, it still has a long way to go before it fully enters the mainstream.
However, it's about to receive a powerful boost thanks to Australian celebrity chef and My Kitchen Rules judge, "Paleo" Pete Evans, who has begun promoting the benefits of cannabis to his immense online following.
Evans is currently producing a documentary on cannabis, and has been meeting with a range of experts to learn more about the plant's medicinal properties. Earlier in the year he travelled to the US and Canada on a three-week research trip to meet with a series of industry experts, while also conducting meetings at the offices of Netflix LA.
A spokesperson for Netflix has already confirmed that the streaming juggernaut did not commission the documentary, although they declined to comment on whether or not they acquire or promote the film.
Speaking to The Green Fund, Evans said that during his research trip he met with "organic farmers, doctors, scientists, patients, entrepreneurs, politicians, historians, shamans and a whole lot more".
"I am a huge believer in the natural world, and [the idea] that it holds many simple answers to our most complex issues. Cannabis is a fascinating plant and one I would consider to be the most controversial plant in the world."
"I will be highlighting this plant like I did with food in my first documentary, The Magic Pill. This will be my second documentary on ways of improving people's health and the health of the planet, and I have a few more lined up to create over the coming decade. In this doco we take a global look at our relationship with this plant throughout history," he said.
Weed Out the Bad
Evans is no stranger to controversy, and in 2018 Netflix faced calls to pull his documentary, The Magic Pill, after it implied that a ketogenic diet could cure asthma, reduce tumour size and treat autism. The claims made in the film were subsequently branded as the "least likely to contribute to public health" by the Australian Medical Association.
He has faced similar criticism in the past due to his belief in all-natural living, which has led to involvement in several fringe groups. Evans has previously campaigned against the fluoridation of water, and also has connections to the discredited anti-vaxxer movement.
These connections have left doctors and medicinal cannabis activists concerned, as they worry that the public may begin to mentally associate marijuana with Evans' pseudoscientific beliefs.
Even being photographed with Evans has the potential to cause public outrage. In March 2019 the leader of the Reason Party, Fiona Patten, faced heavy criticism on social media after she posted an image of herself with the celebrity chef at a cannabis convention.
"I wouldn't say we kept company. I was speaking at the conference and was asked to be interviewed about the failure of drug prohibition for a doco on cannabis," Patten said.
However, while these issues may be valid causes for concern, it's impossible to deny that Evans involvement will bring enormous mainstream exposure to the Australian cannabis industry.
In fact, the chef may be uniquely suited to the role of cannabis spokesperson due to his massive social media following and existing presence in the health and wellness space. According to journalist and author, Sarah Wilson, typical Australian consumers are roughly "3-4 years ahead" of their UK counterparts when it comes to health trends.
"Australians are quick to pick up on trends, particularly those that start online."
"This comes from our outward-looking focus," Wilson said.
Cooking with Cannabis
Although Pete Evans has not directly invested any money in the cannabis space, he has recently begun to ramp up his involvement in the industry by kicking off a number of new projects.
In January 2019 the Canadian cannabis e-commerce platform, Namaste Technologies—which has more than 30 websites in 20 countries—announced that they had partnered with Evans to promote medicinal CBD.
The CEO of Namaste Technologies, Sean Dollinger, explained that the partnership with Evans will be focused on educating consumers about incorporating CBD "in your daily life", and will discuss topics such as infusing "tomato sauce with CBD or putting it in olive oil and using it as spread".
"We have teamed up with Pete Evans (celebrity chef) we are exploring how we can introduce CBD education for people and to be able to do that globally" Dollinger said.
Recently, the celebrity chef has also begun working with Medical Cannabis Research Australia to promote their Health Professional 3.0 educational seminars. Evans chose to promote the event to his 1.5 million social media followers after meeting with several of the speakers involved.
"I have a range of products currently in the health and wellness space, and my philosophy is I only bring to market something that I would take myself. I am looking forward to creating some amazing products using cannabis globally."
– Pete Evans
Evans has also stated that he is writing a cookbook with "one of the world's leading cannabis doctors", and is excited to show readers how to use cannabis in a safe way. Social media was given a sample of the cookbook's potential contents recently, when Evans posted about a "beetroot tartare with horseradish and CBD-infused pistachio oil" recipe that he was preparing.
This could eventually prove to be a very profitable move, as the health food market is only continuing to expand. Research conducted by Euromonitor International found that by 2020 Australia's packaged vegan food market alone could be worth more than $215 million.
The same study also confirmed that Australia has the third fastest growing vegan market in the world, behind the United Arab Emirates and China.
"We as humans are omnivores, it is a pretty simple formula…we have evolved as hunters and gatherers, and that brings about long term sustainable robust health."
"Cannabis can play a part in so many different aspects of our life if we truly embrace it and respect and understand what it is," Evans said.
Keep Off the Grass
Although it is still not clear what long-term effect Pete Evans presence will have on the cannabis industry, he seems to be invested in the issue in a big way. He is already working on a cannabis documentary and cookbook, while regularly sermonising on the plant's benefits to his social media followers.
However, it is also important to remember that doctors are the ones who ultimately decided on whether to prescribe medicinal marijuana to a patient.
This is why some cannabis campaigners are concerned that Evans—who has often found himself at odds with the Australian medical community—will make a poor figurehead for the industry.
Many doctors view the celebrity chef as a pseudoscience charlatan, and are unlikely to be impressed by his involvement. In fact, there is a chance that he may even cause cannabis prescription rates to decline, despite the fact that global legislative progress has often been fuelled patients, not doctors.
Still, an appearance by Evans on breakfast television—or programs like Q&A or The Project—discussing the benefits of cannabis could generate massive mainstream exposure. Hopefully, Evans involvement won't end up being one toke over the line for Australia's medical community.