By Jeremy Martin
With recreational and medical cannabis dispensaries now numbering in the thousands nationwide, consumers and patients alike are finding themselves inundated with strain and brand options at a rate never before seen. Plants are being selected and bred to treat a range of symptoms from the daily inconvenience of headaches or lethargy up to the life-altering such as Chron’s Disease and seizure disorder.
Cannabinoids, the active chemical compound found in marijuana is what dictates how effective one strain will be over another in treating certain symptoms. Cannabis has long been bred for high THC or Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol, a chemical compound that creates a psychoactive effect in humans but acts as an anti-bacterial and pesticide for the plant itself. Beyond THC, the second most prevalent cannabinoid is Cannabidiol or CBD. Lately, patients, researchers, and doctors alike have been discovering a multitude of uses for this compound including fighting seizure disorder, calming nausea, lowering pain and decreasing inflammation. However, there are currently 111 known cannabinoids with the vast majority seeing only diminutive research, though they all may play vital roles in fighting illness or simply allowing a user to better enjoy themselves.
Much of the public’s focus has been on ‘local cannabis’ industries, IE the sale of recreational buds at a neighborhood shop, but a great deal of cannabinoid research is being conducted by the medical technology and pharmaceutical industries. Edibles, Zoots, tinctures and other noncombustible cannabis delivery systems are readily available and the pharmaceutical industry is now slowly rolling out organic and synthetic cannabinoid-based medications. Sativex from GW Pharmaceuticals, for example, is an oral spray derived from a natural THC and CBD blend which is being used as a remedy for patients with severe to moderate pain from multiple sclerosis. The drug launched in the UK in 2010 and was soon available in nearly a dozen countries around the globe, but is not currently available in the United States. The majority of cannabinoid-based drugs such as Caymen Chemical’s HU 331 are still only available for research purposes and not scheduled for distribution to the general public. HU 331, a synthetic compound based on CB1 (Central Cannabinoid) and CB2 (Peripheral Cannabinoid) may one day be used to treat a range of symptoms from weight loss and memory loss to muscle spasms and inflammation.
The pharmaceutical cannabinoid market, with its heavy reliance on synthesized medicine continues to lag dramatically behind the recreational and medical cannabis market in terms of both overall sales and profits. Though as R&D continues, and new drugs hit the market, the pharmaceutical footprint is poised to see substantial growth over the next few years and beyond. The experts at statista.com go so far as to predict that the cannabis biotech/pharmaceutical sector could represent 10% of the overall specialty pharmaceutical market over the next five years, suggesting a market size of at least $20 billion. Whereas legal, non-pharmaceutical cannabis has already passed the $6 billion per year mark and will likely, according to Bloomberg, surpass $50 billion by 2026.
Despite new research into a variety of cannabinoids, if these predictions are to be trusted, the reason for big pharma’s potential growth (and that of the overall cannabis industry) will more than likely revolve around two things: THC and CBD.
According to Joel Anderson, senior editor for Equities.com, “Cannabis contains over (100) different identifiable cannabinoids which have varied effects and could potentially be developed into treatments. However, two, in particular, are of note; THC, which provides most of the cannabis’ psychoactive effects, and cannabidiol, which has been the center of much of the most exciting medical research surrounding the endocannabinoid system.”
With that in mind, there is still plenty of growth potential for lesser known cannabinoids. CBC or Cannabichromene, for example, is a known anti-inflammatory that may also possess anti-fungal and anti-depressant characteristics. CBN is an interesting compound as it is not found in living or freshly processes cannabis plants. This cannabinoid is only found in processed marijuana that has been left to dry. CBN may be a mild antibiotic and anti-asthmatic, but most noticeably it is a quite powerful appetite stimulant and may, in fact, be the primary cannabinoid behind the dreaded ‘munchies.’
As of The Weed Blog explains “Each cannabinoid can provide varying levels of medical benefit, and research has shown that each cannabinoid works the best when they are combined. It’s called the ‘entourage effect’.”
That being said, cannabinoid R&D is still in its infancy, so holding your breath for a nonTHC or CBD based pharmaceutical to shortly appear on the market is not advised. However, initial research is already showing that the lesser known cannabinoids may play a vital role in supplementing the medical possibilities of both THC and CBD and may, in the future provide a range of therapeutic and medicinal products in their own right.