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Biosynthesis: The Science That May Unlock the Medical Potential of Cannabis

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Attitudes are changing fast on cannabis, and investors are taking note.

With the birth of legal recreational markets in places like California and a growing appreciation for the medical applications of cannabinoids such as CBD, the floodgates are open for companies to pursue new and groundbreaking opportunities in the sector.

Unlike other fields where medical research has been mainstream for many decades, the work behind cannabis – an incredibly complex plant – is only getting started.

Untapped Potential

Today’s infographic comes from InMed Pharmaceuticals and it explains the medical potential behind the 90+ cannabinoids that we have yet to fully understand.

It also details a scientific process known as biosynthesis, which helped revolutionize the production of insulin for diabetics. A process such as this may be a key in unlocking the medical potential of understudied cannabinoids.

Biosynthesis: The Science That May Unlock the Medical Potential of Cannabis

The medical benefits of cannabis are many, and scientific research is being conducted to explore the application of the plant in several disease categories, including multiple sclerosis, seizures, glaucoma, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and migraines.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. To understand the full potential of the cannabis plant, you need to know what cannabinoids are, and how they work.

The Human Endocannabinoid System

Like all mammals, the human body is loaded with natural cannabinoid receptors.

These receptors interact with cannabinoids, which occur naturally in the human body, but also in the cannabis plant.

Type of CannabinoidDescription
EndocannabinoidsMade in the human body
Plant cannabinoidsFound in the cannabis plant
Synthetic cannabinoidsManufactured artificially to mimic natural cannabinoids
Biosynthesized cannabinoidsBiofermentation process using E. Coli-based system, which creates cannabinoids identical to those found in nature

Some cannabinoids you may know include THC and CBD – and they have a wide variety of applications. They also make up the majority of cannabinoids (by volume) that can be easily extracted from the plant.

However, there are actually 90+ other cannabinoids that have potential medical benefits as well, and they make up less than 0.1% of total biomass. Because they are so difficult to isolate, they remain understudied in medicinal science.

A Problem of Volume

With only a tiny portion of the cannabis plant having medicinal value (the cannabinoids), a large degree of biomass must be harvested to extract even small amounts of medicine.

For example, 3 lbs (1.36 kg) of hig-CBD flowers may only yield 50 grams of pharmaceutical-grade compounds.

But this ratio is even more strenuous for the 90+ rare cannabinoids that make up less than 0.1% of the plant. With costs in the millions of dollars-per-gram range, it is extremely cost prohibitive to be researching these cannabinoids in any in-depth capacity.

Biosynthesis for Cannabinoids?

The process of biosynthesis could be a clue to maximizing the potential of these understudied cannabinoids.

In fact, this innovation has already helped democratize access to insulin, which originally was an extremely rare and expensive compound. To get just eight ounces of insulin, over 5,000 pig pancreases had to be harvested and processed. With biosynthesis, that is no longer the case.

Biosynthesis is a process that can occur by genetically modifying an organism to produce a pharmaceutically bioactive compounds that it normally would not make. Biosynthesis could thus be used to produce rare cannabinoids that are biologically identical to those produced by the cannabis plant itself.

Here’s how it works:

1) A biosynthetic cluster is inserted into a DNA vector.
2) DNA is inserted into E. Coli bacteria, where it provides instructions to produce cannabinoid compound(s)
3) The process is conducted at a large scale, resulting in materials that can be further processed into purified cannabinoids

The Potential of Biosynthesis

The world’s largest cannabis biotech company, GW Pharmaceuticals, has signed a contract with British Sugar to grow 18 hectares of cannabis for its CBD epilepsy drug, Epidiolex™.

Equivalent to approximately 23 football fields of greenhouse space, this represents a considerable amount of resources and investment needed to grow enough crops to treat 40,000 children with the disease.

If biosynthesis can produce similar quantities of cannabinoids from a much smaller space, it would be disruptive to the industry. Further, it may also make getting other understudied cannabinoids more economic – helping to possibly unleash the full medicinal potential of the cannabis plant.

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Cannabis

Consumer Archetypes Shaping the European CBD Industry

This infographic visualizes the non-consumer and consumer archetypes that could be position Europe as the leader in global cannabis consumption.

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Consumer Archetypes Shaping the European CBD Industry

View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.

With a colossal base of 500 million potential cannabis consumers, and laws that are loosening at a steady pace, Europe could soon emerge as the global cannabis leader.

Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, has become one of the most popular forms of cannabis in the European market, but little is known about the consumers who are reaching for it.

New Frontier Data identified a spectrum of archetypes in an effort to better understand their consumption patterns.

What Makes Europe Different?

Although Europe’s cannabis market is still in early stages, the proximity of countries could be instrumental in how quickly it grows. Widespread legalisation could be accelerated due to neighbouring countries lowering the barriers for others—also known as The Domino Effect.

A total of 22 countries have now legalised some form of medical cannabis, while other countries have decriminalised recreational cannabis or have pledged to fully legalise it in the coming years.

There is a 60% to 70% chance that cannabis will be legal across Europe within the next three years, but more research is key to unlocking growth in this market—and that includes gaining a full understanding of what consumers want.

CBD Consumer Archetypes

New Frontier Data identified five CBD consumer archetypes and four non-consumer archetypes, based on their attitudes, beliefs, and experiences. The CBD consumer archetypes are as follows:

  • The Exuberant & Intense (11%): As advocates of the CBD movement, this group is devoted to trying different products and spends more than any other archetype in the process.
  • The Integrative & Consistent (29%): CBD has become an essential component in achieving a healthy lifestyle for this group, resulting in them consuming it at least once a week and putting them in second place for highest overall spend.
  • The Sceptical & Limited (20%): CBD products are used in moderate frequency, but have not been incorporated into this group’s lifestyle as they are generally wary of health claims. However, more information may soothe the concerns of this group over time.
  • The Receptive & Reserved (23%): Consuming a narrow range of products in moderate frequency, this group are more comfortable trying products based on recommendations from friends and family. Over time, as more people in their inner circle try different products, they will also gain confidence to follow.
  • The Ambivalent & Experimental (17%): This group will not consider purchasing CBD products themselves, but will consume products when they are shared by friends and family. While their beliefs are more conservative, new products could tempt them to make CBD part of their routine.

Interestingly, up to 98% of surveyed consumers claim that CBD has positively affected their quality of life in some way. In terms of product preferences, tinctures/oils are a consumer favourite, with a large portion of people using CBD to unwind.

Non-consumer Archetypes

Less than half of all non-consumers have heard of CBD. While some of them are not open to changing behaviors, others could soon convert to a consumer archetype, provided information and legalisation becomes more commonplace.

  • Unaware & Uninterested (43%): Having never come across CBD products online or in store, this group is broadly uninterested in learning more, but may be open to experimenting as the market becomes more regulated.
  • Knowledgeable & Primed (28%): This group expresses a strong belief in the benefits of CBD and their curiosity to learn more makes them the most likely group to become consumers in the next six months.
  • Informed & Indifferent (19%): A wide exposure to CBD products does not translate to intent to purchase, potentially due to this group’s lack of awareness regarding CBD’s beneficial properties.
  • Cautious & Curious (10%): Despite a strong curiosity towards CBD products, they remain apprehensive about the safety and legality of them.

Overall, 34% of non-consumers are curious about trying CBD products—which could yield significant growth for the cannabis industry in the coming years.

A New Successor to the Throne

The recent COVID-19 outbreak has also sparked major discussion around the use of cannabis. Some parts of the world have declared it as “essential”, as consumers use products to alleviate pandemic-fuelled anxiety, which has resulted in a huge sales boost for the industry.

This will likely translate to Europe, where almost half of CBD consumers claim its therapeutic benefits are their primary reason for use.

The reality is that the potential for European cannabis growth is significant, and to achieve this, both consumer and non-consumer motivations should be considered.

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Cannabis

Visualizing the Huge Potential of Minor Cannabinoids

While the broader cannabis market is estimated to reach $45B by 2024, we’ve only scratched the surface in harnessing the potential of minor cannabinoids.

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The Huge Potential of Minor Cannabinoids

Hemp and marijuana are increasingly recognized for their exciting investment potential.

Due to their growing list of health benefits, the dominant conversation tends to center around the most abundant cannabinoids—cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). As a result, the cannabinoid market is estimated to reach almost $45 billion by 2024.

But CBD and THC are just two cannabinoids out of over a hundred that have been discovered to date. Today’s graphic from Trait Biosciences explores the hidden potential of the lesser-known minor cannabinoids, and illustrates how they fare in comparison to their major counterparts.

Cannabinoids 101

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in both hemp and marijuana that mimic compounds found in the human endocannabinoid system. This system is made up of a network of receptors that are involved in physiological processes like mood and memory.

When cannabis is consumed, cannabinoids interact with these receptors and produce different effects depending on the receptors they bind to. Although over a hundred cannabinoids have been found, they are not all created equally. They are typically divided into two categories:

  • Major cannabinoids: More plentiful
  • Minor cannabinoids: Less plentiful

Regardless of whether a cannabinoid is categorized as major or minor, every cannabinoid starts out as a form of CBG.

CBG-A: The Mother of All Cannabinoids

Cannabigerolic acid, or as it is more commonly known, CBG-A, is the acid precursor to other cannabinoid acids such as THC-A, and CBD-A. When the acids are exposed to heat, or prolonged UV light, they convert to neutral cannabinoids such as CBD and THC.

While CBG is regarded as a minor cannabinoid, it boasts a wide range of benefits that are urging researchers and scientists to take notice:

  • Fights inflammation
  • Soothes pain
  • Reduces nausea
  • Slows the spread of cancer cells
  • Helps treat glaucoma

CBG could be hugely beneficial in treating a wide variety of diseases, but it’s just one of many minor cannabinoids that could potentially blow CBD and THC out of the water.

The Potential of Minor Cannabinoids

To date, there has been limited research into the power of minor cannabinoids. However, the results from preliminary research look incredibly promising.

CannabinoidTypeExamples of potential medical application
THC
Tetrahydrocannabinol
Major, psychoactive
Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, autoimmune diseases
CBD
Cannabidiol
Major, non-psychoactive
Epilepsy, schizophrenia
CBG-A
Cannabigerolic acid
Minor, non-psychoactive
Metabolic disorders, colon cancer
THC-A
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid
Minor, non-psychoactive
Arthritis, neurodegenerative diseases, nausea, appetite loss
CBD-A
Cannabidiolic acid
Minor, non-psychoactive
Chemotherapy-induced nausea/vomiting (CINV), depression
CBC-A
Cannabichromene acid
Minor, non-psychoactive
Fungal diseases
CBG
Cannabigerol
Minor, non-psychoactive
Crohn’s disease, bowel disease, certain cancers
CBD-V
Cannabidivarin
Minor, non-psychoactive
Seizure prevention, Rett syndrome, Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD)
CBC-V
Cannabichromevarin
Minor, non-psychoactive
Osteoporosis, ALS, Muscular dystrophy
CBC
Cannabichromene
Minor, non-psychoactive
Could inhibit growth of cancer cells, osteoarthritis, neurological diseases
THC-V
Tetrahydrocannabivarin
Minor, psychoactive
Diabetes, anxiety, PTSD
Alzheimer’s disease
CBN
Cannabinol
Minor, psychoactive
Bacterial infections, ALS ,appetite stimulant

Note: Any potential medical treatment listed here stems from preclinical/animal testing only, and is simply intended to illustrate the potential application of each cannabinoid rather than a proven benefit.

Scientists also recently discovered two new cannabinoids—THC-P and CBD-P—with research showing that THC-P could potentially be 30 times more potent than THC.

The Future of Minor Cannabinoids

FDA-approved CBD drug Epidiolex has sparked a rising interest in minor cannabinoid trials.

In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has committed to providing funding to strengthen the evidence for minor cannabinoids and their pain relieving properties.

Cannabinoids could also add great value to cancer treatment-related side effects, however, more research is needed to turn potential into proof. With the availability of more robust evidence, the potential medical applications for minor cannabinoids could be much greater than we can imagine.

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