“This year, 2017, the first human trial of cannabinoids for their anti-tumor properties was done in Europe with patients who had recurrent Gliobastoma, the deadliest brain tumor,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Chen, Director of the new UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative launching in late 2017.
“Patients either received 1:1 THC/CBD ratio along with chemo therapy vs placebo along with chemotherapy. The group that received cannabinoids had 83% survival rate at year 1, whereas the placebo (i.e. non-cannabinoid) group only had a 53% survival rate. While this was a small and preliminary study, it seems that cannabinoids may boost survival for this type of cancer,” continues Chen. “However, not all cancers have cannabinoid receptors and thus won’t respond this way. This is just one of countless questions we have about cannabis and why we are launching the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative.”
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) was discovered only 25 years ago in 1992 by Dr. Rafael Mechoulam, of Hebrew University, Israel. However, understanding of the significance of the ECS wasn’t known until recently. The ECS is the largest natural network of receptors in the human body and acts as the master regulator / modulator responsible for balance and homeostasis of the body by naturally modulating the flow of neurotransmitters in the immune system and central nervous system.
“Discovery of the Endocannabinoid System is the single most important scientific medical discovery ever in medicine. More people will be a saved by ECS than by surgery,” explains Dr. Ira Price, Assistant Clinical Professor in the Division of Emergency Medicine at the Department of Internal Medicine, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada. Price was one of four panelist on Cannabis, Science and Your Body, speaker series at this year’s Emerald Exchange Farmer’s Market, where organic cannabis farmers from the Emerald Triangle, (the largest cannabis growing region in the US comprised of Mendocino, Sonoma and Humboldt counties) networked with the world’s largest cannabis distributors in Los Angeles County.
GW Pharmaceuticals, a big pharma company in the UK, announced its proprietary cannabinoid product for epilepsy called Epidiolex, which uses whole plant extracts. Phase 3 trials demonstrated that CBD., (titrated up to 20mg/kg/day) produced significantly greater reductions in drop seizures vs. placebo in patients with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS), which can be caused by a number of conditions, including brain malformations, severe head injuries, central nervous system infections and inherited degenerative or metabolic conditions. In up to 30 percent of patients, no cause for LLGS can be found. Epidiolex should be FDA approved and available on the market by end of 2017.
“In the United States cannabis remains a schedule I drug, like heroin and LSD, which creates massive barriers to research and significantly reduces the amount of funding for this kind of research. If you’re a researcher wanting to study the medical potential of cannabis, you’ll have to get creative because the feds won’t really fund it,” explains Chen. “However, some big pharma companies have obtained waivers to isolate individual cannabinoid molecules, such as THC or non-psychotropic CBD, which when separate from the whole plant, falls into a separate regulatory scheme and is easier to work with,” Chen further explains.
Big Pharma in the U.S. looks to isolate specific cannabinoids such as CBD, (cannabidiol), CBG (cannabigerol), CBN (cannabinol), CBC (cannabichromene), THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin), THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and others to come up with formulas that can be patented to treat specific cancers. However, EmEx expert panelists in science, research and cultivation say there are 84-100 cannabinoids in the whole cannabis plant which contain a broader spectrum of cannabinoids which work together to produce the entourage effect believed essential for full therapeutic benefit.
Sativex, another GW pharmaceutical product, is a patented oromucosal spray containing extracts of THC and CBD as well as specific minor cannabinoids and other non-cannabinoid components. It is also undergoing testing in North America for use as a cancer pain reliever under the name Nabiximols. The drug is already available by prescription in Canada, the United Kingdom and throughout much of Europe for the treatment of various indications, including multiple sclerosis.
Johnny Stash works at the other end of the spectrum as a cannabis cultivator and Director of Agriculture at CA-Labs. He works with farms so that consistent product can be supplied to the researchers. “We have our research scientists on the farm so we can have a collaborative effort,” says Stash.
Rather than isolating cannabinoids for use in extractions for a specific ailment, Johnny Stash believes in the greater benefit of the entourage effect. “We are trying to develop strains that contain all 84 cannabinoids in one plant,” explains Stash. “So far we have developed one strain that has 12 cannabinoids. There is a reason why humans have so many receptors in the body for cannabinoids. Mother Nature got it right,” says Stash. “Let’s see what they all do together! Let the plant do the work.”
Michael Masterman-Smith, PhD has spent 15 years as a cancer biologist and biotechnology leader. Masterson-Smith co-discovered cancer stem cells in soft tissue cancers. His studies in petrie dishes showed cancer stem cells are treatable through cannabinoid receptors that kill cancer cells. He learned that creating synthetic cannabinoids and isolating certain molecules also creates certain toxicity. Whereas when produced naturally using the whole plant, you don’t have toxicity. Lack of funding prevented further clinical trials. In August 2016, Masterson-Smith co-founded CA Labs, Inc., a boutique pharmaceutical company focused on the development of phytochemicals (plant-based drugs) to treat diseases. They are looking for funding for more research on whole plant medicine.
When US pharmaceutical companies start patenting synthesized cannabinoid proprietary formulas they will eventually get FDA approval so doctors can prescribe their products. With FDA approval insurance companies will then have to pay or partial pay for these prescriptions. This could be good and economical for the consumer on one hand, but on the other hand, the patient loses the beneficial entourage effect of whole plant medicine. In addition, synthetic formulas, like most pharmaceuticals, have toxins in them that cause adverse side effects to the nervous system, immune system and gastro-intestinal system. Only those people who can afford whole plant extracts will be able to buy pure whole plant products.
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