Friday, February 13, 2004


Here's interesting piece from Fast Company magazine on the Cannabis Conundrum. Author Bill Breen, who reportedly did no product sampling in reporting this story, takes a look at the research and development of medicinal uses of our plant in other countries. He speaks of the work of Ethan Russo, a physician specializing in child neurology and one of the world's pioneering investigators into the therapeutic uses of pot.

[Russo] noted that the plant's effects on the mind and body were first recorded by the ancient Assyrians in 2200 BC. These days, cannabis is used, mostly illegally, to relieve the nausea that accompanies chemotherapy, stimulate the appetites of AIDS sufferers, prevent blindness induced by glaucoma, suppress migraine headaches, and reduce the pain and muscle rigidity that accompanies multiple sclerosis.

Although nonprescription medications such as aspirin kill thousands of people every year, not a single death has ever been attributed to a cannabis overdose. The "therapeutic ratio" of marijuana is estimated to fall somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000--meaning it would take that many times a normal dose to kill you. If the drug is delivered as a pill or a spray (smoking just about anything is bad for you, after all), then Russo is unequivocal: "Cannabis is a safer medicine than almost all of the standard pharmaceuticals available today."

Russo also notes the inconsistency of US policy on the plant.

The United States has at times embraced the cannabis plant and its products: From the mid-19th century up until the mid-20th century, cannabis was a mainstream medicine, listed in the U.S. pharmacopoeia. The company that marketed the bottle of [cannabis] tincture was none other than Eli Lilly, the $11 billion behemoth that today is best known for another mood-altering drug, Prozac.

Russo recently signed on as a adviser to GW Pharmaceuticals, a British biotechnology company that is conducting clinical trials of cannabis-based medicines. GW in turn has contracted with German pharmaceutical company Bayer Healthcare AG to market Sativex. The rewards are potentially great for the first vendors in this market.

Bayer, which agreed to market Sativex in the UK and Canada--and optioned rights for Europe--is betting that in the next few months, the first modern medicine made entirely of cannabis will pass muster with British regulators. GW estimates that the European market for Sativex could total $300 million to $400 million. "We're finding that cannabis medicines have enormous pharmacological capabilities and a unique capacity to attack, in a disease like MS, an entire range of symptoms," says Dr. Geoffrey Guy, GW's founder and chairman. "If it wasn't called marijuana, by now there would have been an entire biotech industry built around this plant."

We always said cannabis would become legal once the pharmaceutical companies figured out how to make money on it. This prediction is now coming true in many European countries. The article is well worth reading in full.

In any event, it sure does sound like GW would be a fun place to work.

At a secret location in southeastern England, GW Pharmaceuticals has built what might well be the most high-tech pot palace on the planet. Surrounded by electrified razor wire, video cameras, and motion detectors, the greenhouse sprawls across more than an acre of land. At any one time, more than 15,000 marijuana plants are growing under its 14-foot ceiling, with its banks of lights. Inside is a sea of green, comprised of some of the world's most potent strains of pot: Hindu Kush, White Widow, Skunk, Northern Lights. Outside of the Netherlands, GW is the only commercial organization in Europe licensed to cultivate cannabis on this scale.

Maybe I'll send them my CV.


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