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Can Big Pharma Be Trusted to Make Cannabis Pharmaceuticals?

Philip Ghezelbash
cannabis pharmaceuticals being researched

Global pharmaceutical giants entering the cannabis industry with plans for synthetics and growing.

Selling cannabis was once the business of illicit backyard gardeners and your local dealer. However, these days the cannabis industry’s growth in size and scope is undeniable.

Legalization and the popularity of recreational and medicinal cannabis mean the once black market is now a global juggernaut. Forbes says that the U.S. cannabis industry alone employs nearly three hundred thousand workers and that global spending on cannabis products could hit $31.6 billion by 2022.

The New Cannabis Pharmaceuticals Deal 

With such high stakes involved, it was only a matter of time before the pharmaceutical industry and cannabis sales combined. It’s no secret pharmaceutical companies heave produced prescription cannabis products, like Sativex, for years. However, pharmaceutical involvement in cannabis sales increased recently with the announcement that a Teva Pharmaceuticals subsidiary signed a distribution deal with the cannabis company Canndoc.

Teva will now distribute Canndoc products to its pharmaceutical customers, opening the door between cannabis consumers and pharmaceutical companies. A major pharmaceutical company working together with a cannabis company to bring cannabis products to a pharmaceutical consumer base is likely going to draw some dramatic conclusions.

Anti-Pharma Sentiment 

Cannabis culture survived for decades as a black market, kept alive by determined and passionate advocates willing to risk prosecution. The commercialization of cannabis by companies who once shunned them is, therefore, likely to result in disdain among long-term cannabis consumers.

lots of pharmaceuticals

The Benefits of Large Scale Cannabis Commercialization 

However, there will be many celebrating this new pharmaceutical/cannabis collaboration. With the distribution facilities and reach of a company like Teva, Canndoc’s cannabis products could take off. They will now reach a larger consumer base and likely become more affordable. Approval of an actual pharmaceutical company is also likely to reduce the stigma of cannabis products for some consumers. Thus allowing them to feel less intimated about a product that could possibly improve their health.

Cannabis Pharmaceuticals Already on the Market 

So what cannabis pharmaceutical products are actually on the market?

Many cannabis pharmaceuticals come from medical-grade cannabis plants and follow Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) in their production. GMP ensures consistent practices as well as high safety and hygiene levels. This is attractive to some.

Pharmaceutical cannabis products contain different cannabinoid concentrations, which will depend on personal preference and needs. As an intoxicant, THC can induce feelings of euphoria and relaxation. It can also deliver a range of potential therapeutic effects, including acting as an analgesic, anti-emetic, and stress-reliever. CBD, on the other hand, cannot induce intoxicating effects but research suggests it can reduce depression symptoms, inflammation and improve sleep quality. Typically, cannabis pharmaceuticals are extracts or synthetic analogues of phytocannabinoids.

Whole Plant Pharmaceutical Cannabis Oils and Sprays

Oils are a prominent pharmaceutical cannabis product and are available in varying CBD/THC ratios. Cannabis oils are available in extract form and taken orally with edibles or sublingually under the tongue. Ingested oil will also result in longer-lasting, but delayed effects. Oils are a convenient and discreet product for health conscious consumers not wanting to smoke cannabis flower.

cannabis oil dropper

Sativex 

While mouth sprays might not seem like the most popular of cannabis products, they were some of the first pharmaceutical cannabis products available to consumers. Sativex is a THC and CBD extract mouth spray by GW Pharmaceuticals. The drug is available with prescription as a therapy for Multiple Sclerosis patients with moderate to severe spastic symptoms. Cannabis pharmaceuticals like Sativex use a purified form of THC and CBD, derived from the cannabis plant

Epidiolex 

Epidiolex is an FDA-approved, CBD-only extract product and taken orally. The drug is available with prescription to patients 2 years old and above with Lennox-Gastaut or Dravet syndrome, two severe epileptic disorders that develop in childhood. CBD’s anticonvulsant effect is promising, with one study, published in the The Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology (1973), finding that CBD treatment managed to block electroshock induced seizures in rats.

Dronabinol  

Marinol is a capsule containing a synthetic THC oil resin called Dronabinol. It is FDA approved and available through a prescription from a range of countries, including the U.S.. Dronabinol helps with the nausea from chemotherapy, reduces weight loss in patients who have Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and anorexia.

Pharmaceutical Cannabis Inflorescence 

While many pharmaceutical cannabis products involve complex methods of creation, such as synthetic THC molecules, cannabis flower is also available. Inflorescence refers to the complete flower head of a plant and Teva Pharmaceuticals will distribute and sell Canndoc’s cannabis inflorescence flowers in varying CBD/THC ratios.

cannabis plants

Future Cannabis Pharmaceuticals 

While a synthetic THC already exists, a synthetic CBD is yet to make it to market. But the wait shouldn’t take long, with Zynerba Pharmaceuticals recently announcing that they had received a U.S. patent for a synthetic CBD product to treat Autism Spectrum Disorder. But the “Father of Cannabis” Raphael Mechoulam may have outdone Zynerba by creating an ultra potent synthetic version of CBD. These products are yet to hit the market though but there are plans in place.

Synthetic CBD is slower to production, likely because of its legal status when extracted from hemp and its non-intoxicating effects. So why create a synthetic CBD? A combination of creating new patents and a drive to create a more effective, refined and cheaper CBD product are likely behind this synthetic CBD research.

Pharmaceutical companies entering therapeutic cannabis production will no doubt be a warning sign for those lacking trust in Big Pharma. However, time will tell if an open cannabis marketplace will lead to innovation and fair distribution and pricing.

Philip Ghezelbash

Philip Ghezelbash is an ex-personal trainer with a science background who currently operates New Zealand's only health specialized writing studio. He is passionate about presenting complex science in an easy to digest manner and is a firm believer that cannabis has substantial potential to be used as a medicine for degenerative disease.

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