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

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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.

YearU.S. Legal Cannabis SalesU.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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Mapped: The European CBD Landscape in 2020

This graphic explains the innately complex legal status of CBD products in Europe and highlights the countries leading the CBD charge.

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Mapped: The European CBD Landscape in 2020

To say CBD has risen in popularity over the last decade is an understatement.

Not only have CBD consumer products rapidly infiltrated a long list of industries, new research discoveries continue to prove their therapeutic benefits. By 2023, the European CBD market is estimated to reach €1.4 billion.

However, a big problem remains—there is an incredible amount of uncertainty surrounding what is legal, and what isn’t. The above infographic from Elements of Green sheds some light on the innately complex legal status of CBD products in Europe.

The Great CBD Debate

CBD—short for cannabidiol—is a non-psychotropic compound produced by cannabis plants.

While most European countries have legalised it in some way, the caveat for many is that it must be extracted from industrial hemp, thus containing less than 0.2% THC—the intoxicating compound also found in cannabis. On the other hand, countries such as France and Norway only permit CBD isolate (the pure form of CBD) with no THC.

In 2019, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) designated CBD products as a novel food. This means that companies should seek authorisation to bring products to market, although it is not required by law.

However, the industry has now hit a fork in the road, as the European Commission (EC) recently announced it will be suspending applications for novel foods status while it determines whether or not certain CBD products should be labelled as narcotics instead.

The Legal Landscape in 2020

As the industry flip flops between regulations, consumers and investors need to understand that each country has its own laws surrounding the use of CBD.

CountryCBD Legal Staus
🇦🇱 AlbaniaIllegal
🇦🇩 AndorraIllegal
🇦🇲 ArmeniaIllegal
🇦🇹 AustriaLegal grey area (legal lean)
🇧🇾 BelarusIllegal
🇧🇦 Bosnia and HerzegovinaIllegal
🇧🇪 BelgiumLegal grey area (restricted lean)
🇧🇬 BulgariaUnrestricted
🇨🇿 Czech RepublicLegal grey area (legal lean)
🇭🇷 CroatiaLegal grey area (legal lean)
🇩🇰 DenmarkUnrestricted
🇪🇪 EstoniaLegal grey area (legal lean)
🇫🇮 FinlandLegal grey area (restricted lean)
🇫🇷 FranceUnrestricted
🇬🇪 GeorgiaIllegal
🇩🇪 GermanyUnrestricted
🇬🇷 GreeceUnrestricted
🇭🇺 HungaryLegal grey area (legal lean)
🇮🇸 IcelandLegal grey area (legal lean)
🇮🇪 IrelandLegal grey area (restricted lean)
🇮🇹 ItalyLegal grey area (restricted lean/legal for medical use)
🇱🇻 LatviaLegal grey area
🇱🇮LiechtensteinLegal grey area
🇱🇹 LithuaniaIllegal
🇱🇺 LuxembourgUnrestricted
🇲🇹 MaltaLegal grey area/legal for medical use
🇲🇩 MoldovaIllegal
🇲🇨 MonacoIllegal
🇲🇪 MontenegroIllegal
🇳🇱 NetherlandsUnrestricted
🇲🇰 North MacedoniaLegal for medical use
🇳🇴 NorwayLegal for medical use
🇵🇱 PolandUnrestricted
🇵🇹 PortugalLegal for medical use
🇷🇴 RomaniaUnrestricted
🇷🇸 SerbiaLegal grey area (restricted lean)
🇸🇰 SlovakiaIllegal
🇸🇮 SloveniaUnrestricted
🇪🇸 SpainUnrestricted
🇸🇪 SwedenUnrestricted
🇨🇭 SwitzerlandUnrestricted
🇺🇦 UkraineUnrestricted
🇬🇧 United KingdomUnrestricted

While a handful of European countries have made it illegal to import, buy, or possess CBD, the vast majority have legalised CBD products that either comply with the Novel Foods Act, or can be obtained from a licensed medical practitioner.

Of these countries, Germany and the UK lead the European CBD market, followed by Switzerland, Austria, Spain, and Greece.

A Call For Change

A progessive stance on cannabis legalisation combined with increasing consumer demand has led to several countries showing remarkable growth, such as Poland, Bulgaria, Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

Luxembourg in particular presents a compelling growth story, as it plans to fully legalise adult-use recreational cannabis in 2021, which would make it the first European country to do so.

Despite its small size, Luxembourg could in fact be instrumental in encouraging neighbouring countries to implement similar reforms, also known as the neighbour effect.

Growing Pains of a Nascent Industry

Considering each country has its own unique restrictions in place, CBD consumers should educate themselves on the regulations and laws relevant to them.

Despite these often confusing laws and restrictions, it is clear that demand for CBD products is growing exponentially. As a result, the continent may have the potential to overtake North America as the largest CBD market in the world.

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