Cannabis medicines finally arrives legally in Europe.
The recent blog on medical marijuana resulted in lots of mails from various medical users around the world asking for more specific information. For some people weed is a harmless way to relax, for others it is the only way to control pain and manage serious health issues. Medical marijuana, it seems, is on the verge of a revolution. 2011 will go down as a landmark year for medical marijuana. Believe it or not a mainstream medicine manufactured from cannabis is starting to become widely available in Europe. Supporters claim this will force a permanent change in public acceptance of marijuana as a valuable medicine.
GW Pharmaceuticals have a license from the UK Government to grow 20 tonnes of cannabis every year to allow production of their cannabis extract which they call Sativex. Sativex appears to be an alcohol extraction from a Sativa variety and is offered for sale as on oral spray. This has been making the headline news on the TV and the newspapers.
Sativex has so far been been released in UK, Spain, Denmark and Germany. Soon it should be available in Sweden, Austria and the Czech Republic. If you are in one of these countries you may be able to get Sativex from your doctor. A roll-out to numerous other countries will follow the European launch program. Initially, there are 4 huge commercial opportunities for marijuana medicines.
I) Cancer pain. Cancer affects hundreds of millions worldwide
II) Multiple Sclerosis (‘MS’) pain/muscle spasm which affects over a million people worldwide
III) Neuropathic pain. Persistent chronic pain which affects up to 1% of people
IV) Other areas – everything from arthritis to nausea
Cancer is one of the main areas where cannabis can help. The initial target is for cannabis to target the pain associated with cancer. Cannabis also alleviates the nausea of chemotherapy as well as restoring appetite, aiding restful sleep etc. So with one natural herb (cannabis) you get multiple benefits. But one area that you will hear much more about is the attention that cannabis is receiving in the field of tumour reduction (‘autophagy’), there are lots of studies into this at the moment and the results are very promising. Expect to hear much more about this in the coming years.
As we mentioned before, the medical researchers have literally hundreds of different research programs underway around the world, here are a few. What makes cannabis totally unique is the amazing diversity of medical problems which it is being used to investigate. For the drug companies this means that the potential revenues are mind boggling, one raw material (cannabis) could be used for hundreds of different medical applications. What’s more cannabis is easy to grow and in mass production would cost, in principle, no more than wheat or corn. These favourable economic facts are highly attractive to profit-conscious drug companies. Normally a pharmaceutical company might expect to spend hundreds of €millions to identify and commercialise a best-selling drug. Then there are all the additional costs to ensure that there is no toxicity or side effects. The commercialisation of medical marijuana offers all the financial benefits with none of the financial risks.
The only real challenge is reconditioning public perception of cannabis, although the cannabis mis-information campaign is not taken seriously these days anyway. Perhaps the marketing of cannabis medicines will be easier than many expect, after all it is a natural and organic medicine and has been used so widely that we would know about any serious drawbacks by now.
Furthermore the non-addictive nature of cannabis makes it a much better choice than the expensive opiates that are routinely used for serious pain management. Marijuana could reduce national medical drug bills significantly. Those pharmaceutical companies that embrace medical marijuana may safeguard the shareholder interests for years to come. Those that refuse to investigate medical marijuana may see sales of traditional medicines under pressure in future.
So the market for medical marijuana may be embryonic but it is poised to become very big business. I wonder how far it will progress in the next 5-10 years? Just 20 years ago they were telling us that marijuana was a gateway leading inevitably to hard drugs. Now medical marijuana is on the edge of becoming an accepted part of medical science. It’s amazing how times change.
Of course the medical marijuana users/organisations will not be surprised to see cannabis extracts receiving so much praise. Cannabis butter, and cannabis tinctures/extracts have been used for decades by medical marijuana users.
I have a couple of final thoughts for this weeks blog:
a) Let’s imagine we are in the year 2020. Medical marijuana is now common place, all of the major pharmaceutical companies have jumped onboard. Even the most foolish politicians have long stopped arguing against marijuana. At what point does society allow people to grow their own plants, completely legally?
b) Let’s suppose that the drug companies begin to isolate and purify individual cannabinoid compounds for highly specific uses (at the moment typical weed contains a mixture of some 80+ cannabinoid compounds). Will these medicines be more effective individually than they are collectively? In other words, will isolation of individual cannabinoids open up new areas of medical marijuana research in the future?
It is such a shame that mankind has lost so much time by persisting with the lunacy of cannabis prohibition over the last few decades. Let’s be thankful that attitudes are changing so quickly.