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Therapeutic and commercial potentials of cannabinoids

News published on: July 16, 2019

One of the oldest plants known to man is Cannabis. The earliest citations for its use appear around 2723BC in the oldest known medicinal text, the Shen Nung Pen-Ts’ao King (in Chinese), which classifies drugs as tonic, effective and toxic. It was used for menstrual cramps, asthma and skin inflammation. Also, from very early on (according to millennial documentation of Chinese, Persian, Hindu and Greek), marijuana and hashish obtained from hemp – a species of the Cannabis plant – were used to ameliorate physical and spiritual ills.

Cannabis is commonly divided into three species: C. sativa, C. indica and C. ruderalis. However, this classification does not follow a consensus among taxonomists, for whom the prefered classification is in a single species, Cannabis sativa L. (Linneaus) with subspecies sativa, indica and ruderalis¹.

Whether they are different species or subspecies, these three varieties of Cannabis present differences, mainly in relation to the composition of their chemical constituents, called phytocannabinoids – a collection of more than 100 chemical compounds found in the plant.

The primary targets of these phytocannabinoids are receptors in our body, called endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. After the discovery of these receptors, a therapeutic strategy of direct inhibition of the receptors was adopted. One of the first drugs that directly blocked these receptors unfortunately resulted in a troubling failure. In 2006, the European Medicines Agency approved an anti-obesity drug, called rimonabant, which suppressed hunger by direct inhibition of the CB1 receptor. Two years later this drug was taken off the market because of the risk of developing psychiatric disorders, including depression with suicidal tendencies².

However, another approach strategy to use these compounds is based on the derivation of CB1 and CB2 inhibitory drugs (among others), starting from the plant. This strategy opens up a huge range of therapeutic possibilities.


At present, we are experiencing a particular global moment of rediscovery of the therapeutic properties of Cannabis, as well as the recognition of some countries regarding the right to autonomy of the medicinal and recreational use of the plant. Brazil, for its part, experiences a significant variety of claims, especially from some social, political and scientific movements. These movements signal the current need for regulation of marijuana for medical purposes, mainly motivated by high import costs, bureaucracy and urgency for the treatment of diseases by the administration of cannabinoids (epilepsy, sclerosis, anorexia, neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia, etc.).

One of the first medicinal products derived from Cannabis extract approved for therapeutic use was nabiximol (Sativex, GWPharma) in the form of spray for oral absorption. This medication has been used in the treatment of spasticity derived from multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain, among others. Subsequently, two other synthetic cannabinoid drugs mimicking the effect of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) were also approved. Nabilone (Cesamet, MEDA Pharmaceuticals) and dronabinol (Marinol, AbbVie)³ . Among the cannabinoids currently studied, cannabidium (CDB), which according to the European Pain Federation, has scientifically proven indication for use in cancer pain, chronic neuropathic pain, rheumatic pain, refractory epilepsy, among other conditions, however, should always be used when conventional treatments have failed in their expected control.

Nonetheless these are just a few examples of the enormous therapeutic potential and the varied products being researched around the world. As one very bold example of the applicability of their compounds, executives from companies like AB InBev, Heineken, Coca-Cola and Diageo left their traditional drinks aside and went to understand how this universe works. According to the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, the companies have begun a rapprochement with some of Canada’s leading producers of Cannabis4 .

According to experts, the worldwide market for the therapeutic use of Cannabis is estimated at $ 19 billion, and if the US legalizes the market, sales in this country alone could reach $ 80 billion by 2030⁵. Although controverse, the use of cannabinoids is becoming a reality. The market trend is huge and we expect to see some regulation unfolding coming from several countries in the next year or so6 .


Cannabidiol is currently one of the featured topics that will be discussed at BIO Latin America 2019, and is also one of the most expected. Click here to explore other topics of the program and make sure to register and join the conversation!


  1. Small E, Cronquist A. A practical and natural taxonomy for cannabis. Taxon. 1976;25:405–435.
  2. Nature, volume 525, pages S6–S8, 2015.
  3. Neurotherapeutics. Oct;12(4):731-4, 2015.
  5. Owusu, T. Cowen’s Cannabis Analyst Raises 2030 U.S. Market Forecast to $80 Billion. The Street.In: Ao em 03/03/2019
  6. Umpieres, RT. InfoMoney. In:


Author: HGSM Consulting (Eder de Carvalho Pincinato; Margarete Akemi Kishi; Heitor Pineda and Sthefan Ferrari).


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This content is part of the 3rd edition of the bioBr Magazine, an annual publication designed especially for those who come to visit the Brazilian Pavillion at the BIO International Convention.

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