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Cannabinoid research speeding up its pace
There has long been a stigma attached to research into medical applications of cannabis. I’d see the occasional cannabinoid-related news release come through my inbox, but to be honest, in my earlier years on DDNews, most of them would be from the same kind of crackpot folks that would insist that eating some certain kind of food will cure cancer—any cancer. When something legit-seeming came through, it felt like someone hesitantly stepping into the room and speaking so low I almost didn’t notice they were there.
As researchers have become more interested and less self-conscious about working with derivatives of marijuana and its various cousins, I’ve seen more news about cannabinoid research and more boldly presented. There are still some companies out there with specious claims and so much rhetoric and hyperbole that I almost want to encourage them to smoke a joint and chill out, but mostly, it’s above-board.
And with the recent legalizations of recreational marijuana use becoming common enough now that they probably constitute a trend, I feel like almost all the stigma on the research side has lifted away. Since November, I’ve gotten news from at least six different companies and one academic collaboration related to mainstream cannabis R&D efforts, which is about the same as what I’ve seen for news on Parkinson’s disease R&D. And while it may seem odd that I use that comparison, I think it’s apt. There are certain therapeutic areas that are important but that we don’t often get a chance to cover in DDNews because they aren’t as active as, say, Alzheimer’s, cancer or cardiovascular/metabolic disease. We’ve covered cannabinoid research at slowly increasing levels in the magazine since at least 2010, and I think it’s something you can expect to see more of, even if I doubt it will ever be a mainstay of our coverage.
Some of the things that have come through my inbox lately:
And you know, if my impressions from that wave of material aren’t enough, business intelligence provider GBI Research has also taken note of the subject, noting that despite legal restrictions limiting research into the medical applications of cannabis worldwide, a market for synthetic cannabinoid products is noticeably growing.
As noted in a fall 2016 white paper from GBI, a small number of pharmaceutical companies have brought products to market with the main active ingredient being one or more synthetic cannabinoids. The indications for these cover a wide range: anorexia nervosa related to HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis spasticity and nausea/vomiting associated with chemotherapy.
“More recently, products have been approved that contain cannabinoids extracted directly from the plant, as opposed to synthetic recreations, and there is extensive interest in cannabinoids for a variety of neurological disorders,” said Thomas Jarratt, an associate analyst for GBI Research. “Indeed, there are 90 pipeline cannabinoid products, including two in Phase 3 development.”
According to GBI, major advantages of developing cannabinoid products include cannabis’ various therapeutic uses and its very low toxicity. And it may be that cannabinoid products are more beneficial than commonly used analgesics, such as codeine, for the relief of mild to moderate pain.
“The vast majority of pipeline products are in early stages of development, with 74—equivalent to 82 percent of the pipeline—at the preclinical or discovery stages,” Jarratt said. The two products at Phase 3 trial stage are Epidiolex (mentioned earlier in this editorial), in development for treating various types of epileptic seizures, and Sativex (nabiximols), which is being trialed for anxiety disorders.
“As most of these pipeline products are in the early stages of development, GBI Research believes they are unlikely to make an impact on the market in the near future,” Jarratt concluded. “However, this demonstrates the increasing attention being turned towards cannabinoids as a promising active pharmaceutical ingredient.”