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.
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.
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 Cannabinoid||Description|
|Endocannabinoids||Made in the human body|
|Plant cannabinoids||Found in the cannabis plant|
|Synthetic cannabinoids||Manufactured artificially to mimic natural cannabinoids|
|Biosynthesized cannabinoids||Biofermentation 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.
Mapped: The Most Common Illicit Drugs in the World
What are the most commonly used illicit drugs around the world?
Mapped: The Most Common Illicit Drugs in the World
Despite strict prohibitory laws around much of the world, many common illicit drugs still see widespread use.
Humans have a storied and complicated relationship with drugs. Defined as chemical substances that cause a change in our physiology or psychology, many drugs are taken medicinally or accepted culturally, like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.
But many drugs—including medicines and non-medicinal substances taken as drugs—are taken recreationally and can be abused. Each country and people have their own relationship to drugs, with some embracing the use of specific substances while others shun them outright.
What are the most common drugs that are considered generally illicit in different parts of the world? Today’s graphics use data from the UN’s World Drug Report 2021 to highlight the most prevalent drug used in each country.
What Types of Common Drugs Are Tracked?
The World Drug Report looks explicitly at the supply and demand of the international illegal drug market, not including commonly legal substances like caffeine and alcohol.
Drugs are grouped by class and type, with six main types of drugs found as the most prevalent drugs worldwide.
- Cannabis*: Drugs derived from cannabis, including hemp. This category includes marijuana (dried flowers), hashish (resin), and other for various other parts of the plant or derived oils.
- Cocaine: Drugs derived from the leaves of coca plants. Labeled as either cocaine salts for powder form or crack for cocaine processed with baking soda and water into rock form.
- Opioids: Includes opiates which are derived directly from the opium poppy plant, including morphine, codeine, and heroin, as well as synthetic alkaloids.
- Amphetamine-type Stimulants (ATS): Amphetamine and drugs derived from amphetamine, including meth (also known as speed), MDMA, and ecstasy.
- Sedatives and Tranquilizers: Includes other drugs whose main purpose is to reduce energy, excitement, or anxiety, as well as drugs used primarily to initiate or help with sleep (also called hypnotics).
- Solvents and Inhalants: Gases or chemicals that can cause intoxication but are not intended to be drugs, including fuels, glues, and other industrial substances.
The report also tracked the prevalence of hallucinogens—psychoactive drugs which strongly affect the mind and cause a “trip”—but no hallucinogens ranked as the most prevalent drug in any one country.
*Editor’s note: Recreational cannabis is legal in five countries, and some non-federal jurisdictions (i.e. states). However, in the context of this report, it was included because it is still widely illicit in most countries globally.
The Most Prevalent Drug in Each Country
According to the report, 275 million people used drugs worldwide in 2020. Between the ages of 15–64, around 5.5% of the global population used drugs at least once.
Many countries grouped different types of the same drug class together, and a few like Saudi Arabia and North Macedonia had multiple different drug types listed as the most prevalent.
But across the board, cannabis was the most commonly prevalent drug used in 107 listed countries and territories:
|Country or territory||Most Prevalent Drug(s)|
|Albania||Sedatives and tranquillizers (general)|
|Burkina Faso||Cannabis (general)|
|Central African Republic||Cannabis (herb)|
|Costa Rica||Cannabis (herb)|
|Côte d'Ivoire||Cannabis (herb)|
|Dominican Republic||Cocaine (powder)|
|El Salvador||Cannabis (herb)|
|Greece||Solvents and inhalants (general)|
|Hong Kong||Heroin, opium, opioids|
|Lithuania||Sedatives and tranquillizers (general)|
|New Zealand||Methamphetamine, solvent and inhalants|
|North Macedonia||Multiple types|
|Saudi Arabia||Multiple types|
|South Africa||Cannabis (general)|
|Sri Lanka||Cannabis (herb)|
|Syrian Arab Republic||Cannabis (hashish)|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Cocaine (crack)|
How prevalent is cannabis worldwide? 72 locations or more than two-thirds of those reporting listed cannabis as the most prevalent drug.
Unsurprisingly these include countries that have legalized recreational cannabis: Canada, Georgia, Mexico, South Africa, and Uruguay.
How Common Are Opioids and Other Drugs?
Though the global prevalence of cannabis is unsurprising, especially as it becomes legalized and accepted in more countries, other drugs also have strong footholds.
Opioids (14 locations) were the most prevalent drugs in the Middle-East, South and Central Asia, including in India and Iran. Notably, Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, supplying more than 90% of illicit heroin globally.
Amphetamine-type drugs (9 locations) were the third-most common drugs overall, mainly in East Asia. Methamphetamine was the reported most prevalent drug in China, South Korea, and Japan, while amphetamine was only the most common drug in Bangladesh.
However, it’s important to note that illicit drug usage is tough to track. Asian countries where cannabis is less frequently found (or reported) might understate its usage. At the same time, the opioid epidemic in the U.S. and Canada reflects high opioid usage in the West.
As some drugs become more widespread and others face a renewed “war,” the landscape is certain to shift over the next few years.
9 Things Investors Should Know About the Cannabis Industry in 2021
This graphic provides an overview of 9 key developments in the cannabis industry that investors should be aware of going into 2021.
9 Things Cannabis Investors Should Know in 2021
Unlike dozens of other industries across the globe, cannabis experienced significant growth as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, with consumption for both medical and recreational products on the rise, 2020 was a record-breaking year for the industry. After years of investor uncertainty, analysts are predicting a continued bull market in 2021, with several new and exciting developments on the horizon.
Here are nine things cannabis investors need to know.
1. Cannabis Stocks on the Rise
While asset prices took a dip during the initial stage of the COVID-19 outbreak in March, the cannabis sector recovered swiftly after reporting impressive numbers.
Even though cannabis investors have experienced some ups and downs in the last several years, 2021 looks more hopeful.
2. COVID-19 and Cannabis
Cannabis has become an attractive option for people spending more time at home, both as a means of entertainment, and to reduce stress and anxiety associated with the pandemic.
As a result, cannabis sales are soaring. In Canada, monthly sales reached an all-time high of $270 million (CAD) in October 2020, a dramatic increase from $180 million just six months earlier.
3. Cannabis Black Market No More?
For millions of U.S. citizens who live in states where the sale of cannabis is still restricted, the illicit market continues to be their only option.
But with loosening restrictions and legal cannabis becoming more widely available, legal sales are predicted to reach $50 billion by 2026 while illegal sales will plummet to less than $1 billion by the same year.
|Year||U.S. Legal Cannabis Sales||U.S. Illegal Cannabis Sales|
|2016||$6 billion||$25 billion|
|2026||$50 billion||<$1 billion|
4. Political Change Driving Market Growth
Almost 70% of Americans now support the full legalization of cannabis—the highest figure ever recorded.
States where cannabis is legal are now paving the way for cannabis sales, with California expected to pull in over $6 billion by 2021 alone. If federal legalization comes to fruition over the next several years, the already booming U.S. market could see further growth.
5. All Eyes on the European Cannabis Market
The European cannabis market has been on investors’ radar for several years, and with good reason—it is one of the largest cannabis markets in the world.
Driven primarily by medicinal products, the market will be valued at over $39 billion by 2024, with countries like Germany—Europe’s largest economy—leading the way.
In late 2020, the market experienced its biggest breakthrough yet, with the European Union ruling that products containing CBD (one of the most active ingredients in cannabis) are no longer listed as narcotics.
6. Making History in Mexico
Mexico is another market that is piquing the interest of investors and cannabis companies the world over. That’s because it could soon be the third country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis by court order.
With a total addressable market of $2 billion and the potential to support up to 75,000 jobs, these new regulations could change the dynamic of the global market for the better.
7. Most Popular Cannabis Products
Given the flurry of product innovation in the market, consumption of cannabis is quickly changing.
Relatively new products such as edibles and oils are gaining traction, while consumption of flower appears to be declining. This could be due in part to oral products being perceived as a healthier alternative to smoking.
8. CBD Products are Moving into the Mainstream
Although CBD was once considered a niche product that could only be found in dispensaries, growing awareness of the benefits and safety of these products are causing companies operating in the consumer packaged goods industry to take notice.
The cannabis compound is a new addition to a wide range of products such as skincare, makeup, and supplements that can now be purchased almost anywhere—from ecommerce sites to local grocery stores.
9. The New Cannabinoids on the Block
Beyond CBD, scientists have discovered over 100 rare, or minor cannabinoids such as CBG and CBN, that could have even more significant benefits than their major cannabinoid counterparts.
For example, preliminary research shows that CBG could inhibit cancer growth, help treat glaucoma, bladder dysfunction, and kill drug-resistant bacteria.
These discoveries are not only attracting huge attention from the cannabis industry, but from the pharmaceutical industry as well.
Milestones in the Making
With all of these exciting developments coming to the fore, it’s safe to say 2021 could be one of the cannabis industry’s most transformative years to date.
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