Medicinal Organic Cannabis Australia, or MOCA, is leading the way in the cannabis industry Downunder, partnering with one of Europe’s largest livestock feed producers to launch a new line of cannabinoid-rich feed for high-value horses.
“We’ve just finished harvesting,” Alessandro smiles into the camera. “We’re very hands-on. We think that’s important.”
Alessandro Sorbello is the CEO of Medicinal Organic Cannabis Australia (MOCA), the country’s first organic medical cannabis company.
He took my video call from MOCAs new 18,000m2 organic cannabis farm, tucked away in an agricultural district of Sardinia, Italy.
“Our land and the land surrounding it are organic and have been for years,” says Alessandro.
Together with his business partner, Emanuela Ispani, Alessandro started MOCA in 2017, only months after the Australian Parliament legalized the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes.
Prior to that, neither Alessandro nor Emanuela knew much about cannabis.
“I just thought it was a plant, something you got in a little plastic bag from a guy at the pub,” Alessandro laughs.
For 11 years, he worked as a Cultural Attache to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, helping to establish trade between Australia and Italy.
Emanuela, on the other hand, has a degree in robotics engineering and worked with the Queensland State Government’s Department of Science, IT, and Technology.
“It was time for a change,” says Alessandro. “When cannabis came along, it got very interesting very quickly.”
As soon as legislation changed in Australia, Alessandro and Emanuela started researching what they needed to do in order to get licensed to work with cannabis Downunder.
They also traveled to places where cannabis was already legal and reached out to experts like Raphael Mechoulam and Arno Hazekamp to learn more about the cannabis plant and the industry being built around it.
“When we learned and figured how the endocannabinoid system really works, that was the key. We then realized this was a product that everyone could benefit from and that would grow exponentially,” says Alessandro.
Unfortunately, the two quickly learned that cultivating cannabis in Australia wasn’t going to be easy, given the infancy of the industry, the country’s tight regulations, and high costs.
“From the beginning, we’ve been set on bringing down the costs of medical cannabis to make it more accessible. We didn’t want to produce a top-end medicine only available to those who could afford it,” says Alessandro.
That’s when Alessandro and Emanuela decided to look to their home country.
“In Italy, cannabis is treated essentially like any other agricultural crop. Italy was also the second-largest hemp producer in Europe up until the 1940s, so even though several generations have since passed, there’s still a strong connection with hemp here” explains Alessandro.
By setting up their cultivation facility in Sardinia, Alessandro and Emanuela got the chance to work hands-on with local farmers to produce a product that meets their high standards.
“Organics is at the core of our business. Any chemicals, dust, or other toxic compounds that come into contact with the cannabis flower end up in the final product, the medicine,” says Alessandro.
“We believe there’s no place for chemicals (from pollution or pesticides) in herbal medicine. Given the importance of the endocannabinoid system for health, if you deliver toxic compounds into the body via the ECS, there’s a lot of risk to do more harm than good,”.
Today, MOCA has a range of over 20 products approved by the AustralianTherapeutic Goods administration.
The company also just finished it’s first run of crowdfunding to help kickstart its manufacturing and, to top things off, is celebrating a new partnership with Sarda Sementi, one of Europe’s largest livestock feed producers.
Together, Sarda Sementi and MOCA have developed a brand-new line of cannabinoid-rich feed for high-value horses.
“We’ve been working with animals for the last 12 months and seen some remarkable results,” says Alessandro.
In one of MOCAs trials, a participant started giving CBD oil to her 18-year-old dog who suffered from heart tremors and epilepsy. Both the owner and her vet couldn’t believe how effective the oil was in treating both the dog’s seizures and reducing its heart tremors.
“We’re extremely encouraged by these kinds of examples and other research into CBD for animals. Studies have shown, for example, that cannabis is a very effective appetite stimulant, and we believe that could revolutionize the livestock industry, giving farmers a natural alternative to steroids and hormones to help their animals grow faster,” says Alessandro.But besides cannabis’ unique potential as a medicine, supplement, and food, Alessandro is also motivated by something a lot more personal.
His father suffered severe head trauma at a young age due to a motorcycle accident that left him in a coma for a week.
“When you’d meet my father, you’d never imagined he’d had an accident.,” explains Alessandro.
As he got older, however, the damage from the accident became much more visible.
“After seeing the damage to my Dad’s brain from a brain scan, I asked his specialist what we could do. He answered ‘just enjoy him’.”
Years after his father’s death, Alessandro learned that the US government has patented the use of cannabinoids as neuroprotectants.
“It’s very sad to see someone go through the loss of their mental acuity, and I would have loved to see whether cannabis could have helped my Dad, because I believe it could have,” says Alessandro.
But without focusing too long on the what-if’s and should-have’s, Alessandro considers himself lucky to be in a position to drive change in how we see and use cannabis.
“We’re proud to be part of the change to make cannabis more affordable and more accessible,” he says.
“Because we believe cannabis essentially could be for everyone and has the potential to heal people, animals, and the plant.”