Cannabis Catch-All?

Researchers in the U.K. are looking to breed marijuana to make medicines for metabolic disorders, epilepsy, and other diseases.

Jun 20, 2012
Jef Akst

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

GW Pharmaceuticals—the United Kingdom’s only legal cannabis production facility—is already developing Sativex, a drug consisting of two principal cannabinoids (THC and CBD). Sativex is currently in Phase III trials for treating muscle spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients. But GW’s researchers are also studying how marijuana derivatives could be used to treat a much wider range of diseases, including metabolic disorders, epilepsy, ulcerative colitis, psychosis, brain injury, and cancer pain.

“As rigorous modern research with cannabinoids comes to fruition, a new era of treatment options may have arrived,” David Potter, director of Botanical Research and Cultivation at GW Pharmaceuticals who wrote about the company’s efforts this week (June 11) in The Biologist, said in a press release.

GW’s strategy is to breed cannabis plants that produce varying levels of natural cannabinoids. Among the plants the team has bred are those with high levels of THCV, a cannabinoid that is structurally similar to THC, but is normally present only in low quantities. There is evidence that THCV regulates a variety of metabolic functions, including lipid deposition, cellular energy expenditure, and insulin resistance, and company researchers are hopeful it will prove an effective treatment against type II diabetes.

Stay tuned for our July feature on alternative medicines to learn more about the potential uses of medical marijuana that are being investigated, as well as the legitimacy of other non-traditional treatments, including acupuncture, probiotics, and psychedelics.