As cannabis grows into a multi-billion dollar international market, other sectors of the economy are beginning to feel the pressing effects of this new industry’s rapid expansion. However, none have been affected more so than pharmaceutical companies, which have seen loses to their profits in states with marijuana legalization. This raises an important question about the viability of pharmaceuticals in the age of cannabis.
Can Marijuana and the Pharmaceutical Industry Co-Exist?
Big Pharma is losing potential revenue in states that have legalized medical marijuana, putting pharmaceutical companies on notice. With three more states (Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota) legalizing medical marijuana and Montana expanding their existing program in the recent election, more than 60% of the country now has access to legal cannabis.
Research from the University of Georgia reveals that prescription medication use is down in states with established medical marijuana programs. The average doctor in these states prescribed 265 fewer doses of antidepressants each year of the study, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses, and 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication. However, it was pain medication that was hardest hit, seeing an average of 1,826 fewer doses being prescribed in medical marijuana states.
The researchers in the study further determined how much profit the pharmaceutical industry has lost in medical marijuana states. In 2013, the seventeen states with medical marijuana laws saved an estimated $165 million on prescription pills. Extrapolating from their findings, the team concluded that, if medical cannabis was legalized at the federal level, over $500 million could suddenly vanish from the pharmaceutical industry’s annual revenue reports.
Big Pharma has not taken this threat to their bottom line lightly. While many pharmaceutical companies have openly lobbied against cannabis legalization, others have gone a step further and donated large sums to fight legalization ballot measures.
Insys Therapeutics, Inc., the makers of Fentanyl, donated $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, an anti-cannabis group, to successfully oppose legalization in Arizona in 2016, which failed by a two point margin in a competitive race.
Fentanyl, touted by the company to be 50 times more potent than morphine, is best known for contributing to Prince’s overdose death. Facing the potential loss of profits from marijuana, companies like Insys have a vested interest in preventing marijuana from becoming legal.
However, it is possible to create new prescription drugs for a number of medical conditions using cannabinoids without interfering with cannabis’s charged path toward legalization. Nowhere is this more evident than with companies like San Diego, California, based Medical Marijuana, Inc. Branded as a “Company of Firsts”, Medical Marijuana, Inc. has pioneered the growing cannabis industry in a variety of investments: such as, industry specific security solutions, CBD hemp oil supplements, and cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals.
Two of Medical Marijuana, Inc.’s investment companies are currently developing novel treatments for several hard to treat conditions using hemp-based cannabinoids like CBD, while at the same time Medical Marijuana, Inc. itself supported California’s successful legalization effort with a donation, proving the relationship between marijuana and pharmaceuticals doesn’t need to be contentious.
Few companies though have the resources necessary to develop cannabis-based treatments by working directly with the DEA, which requires costly fees and intensive oversight of the testing and development process.
AXIM® Biotechnologies, a Medical Marijuana, Inc. investment company, has had a series of promising achievements in the past few weeks. The company announced that is has entered an IP application on its proprietary method for extracting and isolating high-purity cannabinoids found in cannabis. Additionally, it has received an extension on its patent covering delayed-release cannabidiol gum to cover all cannabinoids, increasing the value of the company’s position in the growing cannabis industry. AXIM® Biotech also recently received the funding needed to pursue multiple clinical trials on cannabinoid derived drugs.
The company’s cannabinoid-infused chewing gum MedChew® RX is being prepared for trials for the pain and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. The study is scheduled to take 12 months and should be followed by FDA/EMA registration as a novel treatment for MS.
AXIM® is also running clinical trials on its CanChew® Plus cannabinoid chewing gum to determine the formulation’s potential as a treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). The study will test two different potencies of CanChew® gum to choose the ideal dosing for the next phase of trials.
Finally, AXIM® Biotechnologies is pursuing clinical studies on its proprietary topical cannabinoid application, AX-1602. AXIM® plans to test AX-1602 for the treatment of psoriasis and eczema. The company’s patent pending topical is made using cannabigerol or CBG, known as the “stem cell cannabinoid” for its ability to become any other cannabinoid.
Another of Medical Marijuana, Inc.’s investment companies, Kannalife™ Sciences, is likewise working to develop novel new treatments derived from cannabinoids. Using their licenses on the government’s patent 6,630,507, Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants, Kannalife™ Sciences is developing new cannabinoid-based medications for a pair of degenerative brain conditions, hepatic encephalopathy and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) results when the liver cannot function properly, allowing toxins to reach the brain and damaging functionality. HE typically occurs in those with chronic liver disease. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the result of repeated blows to the head. Linked to concussions, CTE is estimated to affect over 90% of NFL players, but may be found in anyone with head injuries.
Although Kannalife™ Sciences is focusing on these two conditions in their research now, the company’s work can open up treatments for a number of other neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
The Future of Cannabis Medicines
Although the DEA recently rejected requests to reschedule cannabis out of Schedule I, the classification saved for the most dangerous drugs, the agency’s new policies have eased opportunities for increased research into the plant to examine its medicinal potential.
It will be this medical research that eventually solidifies the pathway for further cannabis-based drugs to gain FDA approval. It is unlikely that the FDA will ever endorse smokeable or edible whole plant marijuana as medicine, and instead, pharmaceutical companies will have to follow the traditional path to new drug designation, including intense clinical research to prove safety and efficacy, for cannabinoid-based drugs.
The FDA has already demonstrated an acceptance of cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs in the past. Once approved, the drug itself is then classified separately from whole plant marijuana. For example, Marinol, a synthetic THC medication, is classified as a Schedule III drug, and is available by prescription for cancer and AIDS patients.
Looking toward a future pharmaceutical market that includes cannabinoid-based medications, companies like Medical Marijuana, Inc. and its investments are actively pursuing the medical research, new drug development, and clinical trials that will be necessary to establish cannabis as an FDA approved medicine.