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Patent The Marijuana Plant?


cannabis plant marijuana patentBy Doug Fine

I missed out on an $8,000 one-day profit several weeks ago when I declined an opportunity to invest in British-based GW Pharmaceuticals, which subsequently went public as GWPH on NASDAQ. I could’ve got in at $1. The stock ended its first day of trading around $9, which is about where it’s trading today. (Pause while I absorb a feeling in my gut that I hope is pride but might be fiscal pain.) The purpose of this column is not to speak for or against GW Pharmaceuticals or its cannabis-based products, but rather to elucidate the issues that caused me to err, for now, on the side of whole plant versus concentrated cannabis prescription.

In Too High to Failmy recent exploration of the post-Drug War economy, I had only nice things to say about GW’s most prominent product, Sativex spray. I quoted research out of the University of California, San Diego that said the product, which concentrates a proprietary balance of two components of the cannabis plant, was being studied for potential effectiveness in relieving uncontrolled persistent pain in patients with advanced cancer.

I actually am hopeful that, as it motors toward worldwide approval, Sativex will help provide relief for millions of people for ailments ranging from pain to diabetes (for which it’s being studied). It’s already helping multiple sclerosis patients’ spasticity in the 20 countries in which it’s approved, including Canada and much of Europe.

Though the company’s very existence gives lie to the underlying purpose of the Drug War, here are the factors that caused me to hold off supporting the venture with my own funds. First off, a year of field study into organic outdoor cannabis farmers in California’s Emerald Triangle provided quite the botany education. Not just in sustainable aphid-deterrents (neem tree extract) but in organic chemistry. I learned that cannabis contains more than 90 known components known as cannabinoids. The plant is such a broadly effective medicine because our bodies possess cannabinoid receptors. If I weren’t already a spiritual fellow, that miracle would’ve made me one. It’s a very kind set-up.

Cannabinoid receptors (think of them like catchers mitts, waiting for the introduction of cannabis and similar components into our bodies) are unusual in that they are systemic: They’re not limited to just the brain or just the pancreas—they’re everywhere in our bodies, even the skin. If you have inflammation in a muscle in your foot, cannabinoid receptors somehow know to spring up nearby. If you introduce the right cannabinoids into your system in the right way, pain is reduced.

One doctor I quoted in Too High to Fail, William Courtney, put it this way: “When their work is done [cannabinoid receptors]can even blow themselves out.” Study, especially domestic study, into the human endocannabinoid system is, thanks to the Drug War, young. But what’s clear is that cannabis is one heck of a complex molecule. In fact my original title for Too High to Fail was The Complex Molecule.

As Sativex, and other cannabis-based medicines become available, it is imperative that home gardens are still allowed.

Sativex, in controlled, indoor growing facilities, essentially isolates two of these cannabinoid components of the plant, for specific medicinal purposes. Make no mistake, two important ones: THC (the famous psychoactive component of the plant) and CBD, which study after study is showing effective for everything from pain reduction to tumor reversal.

Now, I come from a family of MDs. I understand that this is how modern medicine works. You take a promising chemical, often naturally derived, concentrate it, and start testing it. You start with animals, move to human trials, and then you get the equivalent of Food and Drug Administration approval in whatever countries you wish to market.

Here’s the rub. If, God forbid, I or someone I love were sick with something cannabis can help, I’d want us to have access to the whole spectrum of components in a plant with which humans have, according to Michael Pollen, co-evolved over tens of thousands of years. More than that, as with everything we put in our bodies, I’d insist that such a plant be grown outdoors in local microbial soil under God’s sun, rather than in a lab with unknown pest control methods. I simply believe such practices provide better medicine.

Now, I’m a fellow who could use eight grand. So at this point I could still have debated myself into investing in GW. It’s wonderful that a cannabis-derived product is gaining legitimacy Stateside and, hopefully, soon helping patients when the domestic Drug Peace breaks out. But once you get into the patents involved in pharmaceutical products, you at least raise the specter of other ratio possibilities in the diverse cannabnoid, terpene and bioflavanoid profile proving unavailable to patients (or to folks involved in a health maintenance regimen that includes cannabis).

The limited effectiveness of synthetic cannabis derivative Marinol (used for glaucoma and appetite stimulation) has shown that the pharmaceutical model might not be the best option for all patients who benefit from cannabis therapy. As any practitioners of China’s millennia-old traditional medicine will tell you, individual body chemistry factored over a particular medical complaint plays a fundamental role in the administration of herbal treatments.

Now, in preparing this column I very much wanted to hear from a GW executive assuring us that these concerns about proprietary limits on patient access to cannabis would never come about. That folks worldwide would, if they wanted, always be able to grow their own cannabis plants – the way that today a patient can make rose hip tea instead of buying Vitamin C tablets if she prefers.

I did contact the company for an interview for this column. A spokesman replied promptly, but said that due to forthcoming financial reporting, the company’s in a “closed period” for public comments. As the debate continues, if another column (or columns) on the topic is called for, I’ll certainly write it. Again, the purpose of today’s Drug Peace Bumblebee column is to broaden a discussion that, I’m pleased to report, is yet another indication that we, the American people, have won the Drug War. We’re getting into nuances like “whole plant” medicine versus patented cannabinoid combinations. Everyone should welcome this. I consider my mind open.

I should say, though, that there was another factor that somewhat sealed the deal for me in my decision not to invest in GW. They are playing with Big Pharma, every Drug Peace advocate’s boogie man. To give one example (quoting from GW’s website), “In 2003, GW and Bayer entered into a license agreement, whereby GW granted Bayer an exclusive license to market Sativex in the UK and Canada.”

Fair enough. Even a Pharma giant like Bayer, for all of the problems in today’s pop-a-pill medical marketplace, has developed products that have saved or improved thousands of lives. Also, there’s a certain breed of consumer who is always going to feel more comfortable picking up even an herbal medicine in a spray bottle from her pharmacist. But it seemed to me contrary not just to my values (as an admittedly inexperienced investor) but also to the potential of one of humanity’s longest utilized medicinal plants to, right out of the gate, invite Big Pharma to the party.

I fully accept that my views on this topic might evolve. Indeed I realize this very column might provide an investment spike for GW and I’m OK with that. If some people think any cannabis being legal is better than none – potentially restrictive government seals of approval be darned — fine. It’s fine with me, too, as long as home cultivation is always allowed everywhere. As long as locavore cannabis is always available at the farmer’s market when the Drug War ends.

Meanwhile, let the debate continue. If you want to help ease the pain of my missed eight grand, you can always buy a lot of copies of Too High to Fail, or book me to speak at your university or organization. There you’ll see the journey of an anti-Sativex: a local developed high-CBD strain grown outdoors in a sustainable manner and delivered locally to cancer patients. That’s the kind of farmer-owned operation in which, when Prohibition ends, I’d be honored to invest.

Source: National Cannabis Coalitionmake a donation


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Johnny Green


  1. How about marijuana being covered under the Affordable Care Act? Or are we not going to actually talk about real issues, and just speak hipster grandiose prose on disqus?

  2. Where exactly do you think the working class’ pensions and 401ks derive their value from? Again this is not about the plant, the plant can heal on its own with proper knowledge and experience, but for ease of use, many people, especially those anti-cannabis will just go to a doctor because of the propaganda that you claim I am suffering from. LMAO. You underestimate me friend. Many people are not “that into cannabis” so they will be at the whim of their doctors and get whatever insurance covers. These patients aren’t going to be learning about the various flashpoints of the chemicals in an almost infinite variety of strains. As long as the gov’t doesn’t violently go after clandestine dealers of cbd oil, that I will support the clean-young bio pharmaceutical company supplying the doctors. One thing you can’t seem to understand is that medical grade cannabis needs to be strongly regulated against things such as aspergillus niger. You can’t be giving stage 4 cancer patients moldy cannabis. You are the one who needs to think outside the box.

  3. It goes a lot deeper than you may realize. I am pro full blown legalization, but there is a spot for a pharmaceutical company to eat at the table too. This is less about the plant itself and the way the global economy works.

  4. disqus_qR9WHb147V on

    Did you mama drink while carring you? So we need Big Pharma? Playing God all while covering up all the deaths by their chemical shit they call medication. How about the money to be made off of sick people? Hypocratees said, let your food be your medication. If you don’t get it by now, I will tell you. The healing proporties we humans need, is in the very food we eat. How have people known for thousands of years about all of the herbal medications? What is more healing, a cheese burger or a vegi burger. Think outside the box man! The box being the moraly bankrupt, propaganda shit that comes out of your TV. The majority of your life has been a lie. Will you choose to stay ignorane or research and do some critical thinking? Waking up to the truth is a bit of a shock, but the shock can be controled.

  5. Then who do you suppose should make the medications humans rely on to survive?

    Every human should have a billion dollar laboratory in their basement? Have every resource in reach to make a medication they need? Have the thousands of years of schooling it would take to learn everything about every medication in existence today, and know how to replicate each one themselves?

    You can’t be serious.

  6. Burlwood Barry on

    nature cannot be patented under any circumstances; it’s the height of arrogance and ignorance for people to come along and think they can do that. any existing patent on natural things is an invalid, illegal patent, to be ignored and challenged by people with common sense. you heard it here first.

  7. What’s a ‘pharmaceutical cannabinoid’?

    Surely you’re not discriminating against particular plants because they’re grown by a company with ‘pharmaceuticals’ in its name?

    Of course any research on Sativex is directly applicable to cannabis. If you persist in falsely differentiating Sativex from cannabis you’re doing the work of the anti-cannabis propagandists.

    Sativex IS cannabis, grown to exceptionally high standards, extracted using a highly sophisticated process to produce an extremely concentrated tincture with a guaranteed THC:CBD ratio.

    Apart from the criminally high price and the corrupt, dishonest licensing system under which it is produced what’s not to like? It is an excellent product of superb quality.

    I agree, of course, that the existence of Sativex should not prohibit individuals and other businesses from growing their own. That would be an unlawful monopoly

  8. TruthOnPotcom on

    You need to reread that patent application if that’s what you think. In terms of research, they are not funding medical marijuana research. They are funding Sativex research. Big difference. Take a look at what happened with Marinol. Doctors do not treat clinical trials conducted on medical marijuana and pharmaceutical cannabinoids as the same. So researching Sativex’s medical effects does nothing to help medical marijuana patients.

  9. Confused why or how you think you could have bought this stock at $1? These shares are not the same as the GWPRF shares.

  10. No, I don’t. To be fair what they are seeking to patent are particular combinations/ratios of cannabinoids as extracts/tinctures. This is entirely legitimate and is based on their original research into what is effective. They can’t patent any and all phytocannabinoids as a treatment for cancer.

    Research into and development of cannabinoid ‘cocktails’ for cancer, diabetes, mental health conditions, epilepsy, etc is exactl what GW is doing and is an admirable aim. I see no reason why it shouldn’t sit alongside the development of different strains for similar reasons and is exactly what one would expect from a pharmaceuitical company.

  11. TruthOnPotcom on

    Peter, you do not think GW’s efforts to patent “phytocannabinoids in the treatment of cancer” (US20130059018) is opposite to the motives of the medical marijuana movement?

  12. Permit me to make a very, very important correction to this piece. Sativex is an whole plant extract of cannabis. It contains all the cannabinoids, terpenoids, flavonoids and other compounds in the cannabis plants from which it is made. The idea that it contains only THC and CBD is part of the anti-cannabis propaganda from the UK Home Office. GW has virtually given up peddling this myth itself. Its CEO, Dr Geoffrey Guy, proudly proclaims that his medicine contains ‘420’ molecules whereas every other medicine contains just one.

    GW Pharma is an excellent company which should be congratulated for bringing the benefits of cannabinoid medicine to market. It is a centre of unrivalled expertise in the world. Nowhere else is there such a repository of knowledge and excellence on cannabis. In our capitalist economy you can’t really blame it for exploiting the corrupt, dishonest and incompetent Home Office licensing department.

    One problem is that in the UK GW has bought and paid for every doctor who shows any interest at all in cannabis as medicine. I have direct experience that independent doctors who express any interest are intimidated by the Home Office.

    I reject therefore the attacks on GW. Its motives are not the ‘opposite’ of the MMJ industry, they are the same. It will not fail when the truth about cannabis is finally generally recognised because it has built up massive and unique expertise.

    Bob’s idea that there are ‘synthetic compounds ‘ (spelling corrected) in Sativex is nonsense. The only thing it contains other than cannabis is a little peppermint oil, a very small amount of ethanol and propylene glycol, an additive found in many foods and medicines which assists with absorption through the mucus membranes.

    Sativex is sold at a price equivalent to about £100 per gram of cannabis which is excessive.

    With respect, there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about Sativex in this article and the comments. The Truth About Sativex is here: http://www.clear-uk.org/the-truth-about-sativex/

  13. TruthOnPotcom on

    GW Pharmaceuticals is a joke “Pharma” company. Medical marijuana and the Pharma industry will never mix successfully. Their motives are completely opposite. GW Pharmaceuticals will fall faster than Big Pharma once medical marijuana is finally recognized by lawmakers

  14. TruthOnPotcom on

    Health Canada says they will allow market economics to dictate the price. I am certain that it will not surpass 8.50$ a gram

  15. The last thing medical cannabis needs is a pharmaceutical company to inject its synthedic compounds into a plant that complete is already a wonder drug, When any drug producers get involved you got to know that the price will triple so the $8.50 a gram that Health Canada is proposing will end up being $20.00 a gram + GST + HST, and since Cannabis will still be a Schedule 1 drug Insurance co. and the Goverment will not cover it, the very same people that this medicene could help are the same people that will not be able to afford the inflated cost of “Research and Development”. If you include soil, nutrients, pots, Elecricity, water and 2 people to Harvest, it cost less then $2.00 a gram for a well yeilded strain above 4 oz per plant.

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