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01 June 2017

News

Embracing the medical potential of cannabinoids

SOURCE: THE MEDICINE MAKER

Initial research into the uses of medical cannabis suggests applications across a range of diseases, but research is needed to realize cannabis’ full medical potential.

By Neil Mahapatra

One of Richard Nixon’s less well known misdemeanours was, in 1970, to make cannabis a Schedule 1 substance, which frustrated researchers interested in the plant’s medical applications. In November 2016, the US lifted a federal cultivation restriction that hindered cannabis research by US academic institutions. Whilst the societal arguments for the full legalisation or decriminalization of cannabis are strong, they are still a matter of debate. However, what is becoming difficult to ignore is the growing evidence that cannabis has medically beneficial properties.

The easing of cultivation restrictions for US academic institutions is indicative of the larger shift by the pharmaceutical industry back towards re-examining natural products (“NPs”, chemical compounds or substances produced by living organisms i.e. animals, plants, bacteria and fungi) as a source of medicine. The 1990s saw a green rush of bioprospecting by the pharmaceutical industry as it sought to mine Earth’s biodiversity. However, despite significant success (the vast majority of today’s antibiotics are derived from natural products), by the 2000s most pharmaceutical companies had terminated their natural product discovery programmes, citing difficulties in obtaining samples at sufficient yields, ecological and legal restrictions, and insufficient capital investment in natural product discovery programs as the reasons to do so.

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