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Why are drug companies racing to develop noncannabis endocannabinoid meds?

Endocannabinoid drug research is booming, but why?

Article by Extract Story by Emily Gray Brosious

An early stage drug trial of an experimental medication meant to act on the body’s endocannabinoid system ended in disaster last week after the drug left one person dead and five others seriously ill.

The drug in question contained no cannabis or cannabis derivatives, contrary to what initial reports indicated, but was actually a chemically created FAAH inhibitor designed to tap into the body’s endocannabinoid system.

Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the human body and allow communication and coordination between different cell types, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

The endocannabinoid system has been tied to a growing number of bodily functions, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Thus, harnessing and modulating endocannabinoid activity may hold therapeutic promise for a wide range of diseases and health conditions “ranging from mood and anxiety disorders, movement disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, to cancer, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, stroke, hypertension, glaucoma, obesity/metabolic syndrome, and osteoporosis, to name just a few.”

Per HHS:

The recent identification of cannabinoid receptors and their endogenous lipid ligands has triggered an exponential growth of studies exploring the endocannabinoid system and its regulatory functions in health and disease.

In other words, ever since the endocannabinoid system was discovered, pharmaceutical companies have been fiercely racing to develop cannabinoid medications.

Why develop these meds when cannabis already exists?

One reason might be patents and profitability.

Marijuana is a plant, and people can hypothetically grow it on their own. That’s not the case with pharmaceutical drugs.

“If you invent it and patent it, you own it. Nobody owns Charlotte’s Web or Harlequin,” Ben Adlin writes for Leafly.

Another reason companies might be racing to develop noncannabis endocannabinoid meds is the social stigma associated with marijuana and specifically associated with the component of marijuana (THC) that produces psychoactive effects.

The HHS asserts that this problem can be avoided when tapping into the endocannabinoid system indirectly.

Indeed, that appears to be what some pharmaceutical companies are trying to do.

Researchers in the botched drug trial in France were reportedly testing a medication called BIA 10-2474, manufactured as a painkiller by Portuguese drug company Bial, according to VICE.


BIA 10-2474 is a type of drug known as an FAAH-inhibitor. That means it prevents the breakdown of the brain’s natural marijuana-esque chemicals—the endocannabinoids—ideally keeping them in action longer and producing the calming pain relief people get from marijuana, but without any of the usual impairment.

Although most drug trials do not lead to death or lasting injury, this drug trial did. It left one person dead and five people severely ill with signs of dying brain tissue.

That’s an incredibly unfortunate outcome especially when you consider that the experimental drug in question is meant to do exactly what cannabis already does — relieve pain — but without the psychoactive effects.

Natural cannabis, of course, has never been attributed to an overdose death.

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