An enormous 18-hectare greenhouse belonging to British Sugar will be put to a new use: producing cannabis plants for the extraction of cannabidiol to treat epilepsy. GW pharmaceuticals, makers of Epidiolex, a drug that is expected to be FDA approved and released onto the market in 2017, is gearing up for massive global demand according to The Telegraph.
GW Pharmaceuticals extracts cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid from hemp plants, to make its anti-seizure medication. Clinical trials have indicated that the “new” drug is effective, and has no dangerous side-effects.
Cannabinoids isolated and marketed by pharma
This will not be the first time that a cannabinoid, or combination of cannabinoids, have been isolated for marketing as a medicine. Ironically, these medications are prescribed in countries and states where cannabis, and even hemp, are not legally available to patients.
Isolating a compound from a plant rather than using the whole plant extract, enables researchers to determine the efficacy of single compounds, but many believe that such drugs lose some of their potency by eliminating natural ingredients that may work in concert with the targeted compounds.
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British Sugar and GW Pharmaceuticals form profitable partnership
Every year, British Sugar tries to find the most profitable crop for its state-of-the-art greenhouse. Currently, tomatoes occupy the space that will be used to grow hemp, but the MD of British Sugar believes it has found the perfect partnership to boost its greenhouse’s profitability, and that the company has the expertise to produce the crop GW needs to take the world by storm.
The greenhouse is already equipped with day-length control systems in the form of lights and blinds, and British Sugar will use carbon-dioxide from its sugar production operation to enrich the atmosphere in the greenhouse to promote maximum biomass production. It believes that it will be able to produce up to three crops a year using the facility.
The company says that it has been eager to partner with a pharmaceutical company in the past, but has not found an opportunity such as this to date. It notes that the crop will prove much more profitable than tomatoes, and likes the idea that the drug produced from the crop will be used to help thousands of children suffering from intractable seizures.
Cannabidiol to treat epilepsy gains scientific go-ahead
Although Epidiolex is being hailed as a medical breakthrough, cannabidiol in the form of hemp oil extracts has long been “unofficially” used as a treatment for epilepsy and seizure disorders in children. GW pharmaceuticals’ successful clinical trials on cannabidiol have finally vindicated the parents who bought cannabidiol to treat epilepsy despite what was, at the time, a lack of scientific evidence.
Headlines around the world have created a sensation by reporting on parents using “marijuana” on their children, and parents have even faced court battles. Soon, getting a “medical marijuana” prescription for children will be easy enough – as long as the soon-to-be-approved Epidiolex gets the expected go-ahead.
One giant leap for sick kids and their parents
No comparative studies on cannabidiol-only Epidiolex and whole plant extracts have been concluded, but at least parents of sick children may soon be able to claim the cost of cannabidiol from their health insurance, a benefit that has so far not been available in the US, even in states with medical cannabis programs. Cannabidiol to treat epilepsy has finally gone mainstream.