Long stigmatized, cannabis is increasingly gaining mainstream acceptance as momentum builds around the plant’s therapeutic potential. Medical marijuana research has entered a new era of rigorous clinical trials, innovative drug discovery and pharma industry collaboration. The developments have industry analysts forecasting massive growth ahead in the medical cannabis market.

“We’ve reached an inflection point where serious biopharma players are demonstrating real interest in cannabinoid medicine,” said Dr. Danial Schecter, director of the Cannabinoid Research Institute. “The stigma is disappearing as the evidence mounts on cannabis applications for countless conditions.”

The most promising area is pain management. Cannabis-derived therapies are showing potential to replace or augment opiates, providing similar efficacy with less risk of addiction. GW Pharmaceutical’s Epidiolex, approved for reducing seizures, further validates cannabis’ drug prospects.

Heartened by earlier success, GW Pharma and others are undertaking trials targeting pain, autism, cancer, MS, PTSD, and more. Their efforts got a boost in 2015 when the DEA eased requirements for researching cannabinoids. Funding has followed the shifting sentiment – NIH spending on marijuana research rose from $66 million in 2014 to $196 million by 2018.

“The antiquated restrictions on studying cannabis are finally relaxing, unleashing a wave of investment into the plant’s extensive pharmacology,” said healthcare investor Neil Mersky.

Global medical cannabis sales are forecast to grow over 23% annually to reach $56 billion by 2028. Cowen & Co. sees potential for FDA approval of 50 cannabinoid drugs by 2040. With North American legalization gaining steam, developed markets will drive much of the demand.

Realizing this potential requires significant investment into R&D by pharma giants and cannabis firms. Market leader GW Pharma plows 20% of revenue into advancing its cannabinoid pipeline. Meanwhile, companies like Tilray and Canopy Growth are acquiring startups and researching proprietary drugs. Tilray recently began trials on a CBD gel for arthritis pain in partnership with Novartis.

Big Pharma is also wading in via partnerships with cannabis players. Sandoz Canada recently signed a deal with Tilray to co-brand non-combustible medical pot products for the Canadian market. The agreement gives Tilray instant medical commercialization while Sandoz gains cannabis expertise. Such deals allow major pharma companies to capitalize on demand while avoiding regulatory risks.

Given cannabis’s proven interaction with CB1 and CB2 brain receptors, established drug companies hope cannabinoid compounds can serve as safer alternatives to highly addictive products like opioids, benzodiazepines and amphetamines. The compounds’ unique pharmacology also holds promise for addressing previously untreatable conditions.

However, hurdles remain on the path to widespread medical cannabis adoption. Without stronger clinical evidence, insurers still limit coverage for cannabinoids. And the FDA’s tone on CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid driving much of the medical investment, remains uncertain. But analysts expect medicine to ultimately overcome stigma.

“The potential for CBD as a new compound class along the lines of omega-3 is incredible, and advanced companies are moving aggressively to build upon early signals of efficacy,” said healthcare analyst Amanda Stevens.

As barriers to research and access continue falling, cannabis seems poised to stake its place as a standardized medical treatment. Patients, doctors and investors alike have high hopes for its curative promise. If realized, the impact on human health and financial markets could prove transformative.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *