Last decade has witnessed increasing interest in Cannabis field considering every aspect, from business applications to more scientific and medical insights into vast potential that this miraculous plant can offer. More importantly, the public image and perception of Cannabis has made a large leap forward in terms of more civilized approach, discovering numerous alternative applications, opening doors to a higher quality of life with cosmetics and food supplements and giving access to poorly discovered world of applicable Cannabis-derived therapies for many ailments and diseases. Due to late arrival of Cannabis medicinal value concept in Europe, we are still in intensive early stage of scientific identification of basic cannabinoid mechanisms and their components, being aware of their use in herbal medicine in a variety of cultures through millennia, oldest use presumed to be in about 8,000 BC in Japan, continuing its’ expansion through Chinese, Indian, Assyrian, Greek and Egyptian cultures.
Because of fairly late identification of biochemical basics of human endocannabinoid system in the late 20th century (CB1 and CB2 receptors were identified in early 1990s) we are still trying to get broader picture of possible applications of cannabinoids. Progress in the field was majorly slowed down by the fact that Cannabis was perceived only as an illegal drug and not as an object of scientific research and clinical use. The fastest development of Cannabis use as a legitimate product took place in USA where by 2016 majority of states legalized use of medical cannabis (even if FDA approved only four cannabis-derived drugs) and in 2012 first two states (Washington and Colorado) legalized recreational use of Cannabis and were followed by many others in consecutive years. USA therefore became a global leader in medical cannabis applications, allowing increasing number of patients (estimated total number of state patients in USA 2021 being around 5.4 million) to access treatments and promoting scientific research, finding out more and more applications for variety of illnesses, but not only.
Legislation changes worldwide: new approaches to cannabis for medical and recreational purposes
While every state managed their legislation by their own, on a federal level Cannabis still remains unlawful, meaning there is no possibility to import/export medical Cannabis between the states, leaving them with options to import only from outsiders (e.x. Canada). Last couple of years there were many attempts and initiatives towards changing the federal law, nevertheless it remains conservative and closed for interstate commercialization of medical Cannabis. Apart from already well established export giants of medical cannabis like Canada, Netherlands, Israel or Portugal, there are still new players entering the commercial arena like Colombia which in 2021 approved export of medical cannabis and is further developing laws concerning licenses for private companies and better quality control management, putting pressure on adequate good manufacturing practices, labelling and packaging requirements and therefore signaling the increasing importance of export/import of medical cannabis.
On April 19, the American House of Representatives passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking, which will next move to the Senate. If the Senate votes to pass the bill, the SAFE Banking Act would allow financial institutions to provide services to cannabis clients without fear of federal penalties by establishing a safe harbor for depository institutions doing business with cannabis clients. United states have seen many legalization legislations in 2021 (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Mexico, Virginia and Alabama), delivery licenses in Massachusetts and license awards in Illinois (55 licenses) and New Jersey (14 licenses). Cannabis industry in USA got bolstered by Amazon, which declared support for federal cannabis reform legislation and removed cannabis from its drug screening programs for unregulated positions. Listed events point towards changes in federal law concerning cannabis and increased state government support for the market.
In Europe, year 2021 witnessed many advancements towards cannabis regulation and legislation. In December, Malta became the first EU member to legalize the use and growth of cannabis. Also, newly elected German government declared the intent to expand cannabis use in Germany in 2022. Considering the fact that in Germany about 120 000 patients receive medical cannabis treatments annually, making it largest European market, it seems only natural that the German government is leaning towards expanding the cannabis law, possibly setting an example for other members of EU.
Big Pharma: new players in the cannabis products market
Among other global cannabis changes there are also indicators showing big pharma players becoming more and more interested in medical cannabis applications and future perspectives as end of the year revealed some bold investment movements. Pfizer announced acquisition of a clinical-stage company Arena
Pharmaceuticals Inc. for $6.7 billion, including a pipeline that is connected to cannabinoid therapeutics with
Olorinab as a novel drug candidate for the treatment of pain. Soon after on 26th of December Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, an Israeli pharma giant announced entering the cannabis market by signing an exclusive collaboration with Tikun Olam-Cannbit, which will produce several medical cannabis products that will be administered as oils. They will be marketed by Teva Israel to patients in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and, when the market opens, Ukraine.
Scientific Research for a deeper knowledge
High hopes also lie in the scientific research of human endocannabinoid system – the more we know about it the more therapeutical applications we can consider in medical use. Molecular mechanisms and pathways are still poorly discovered as it seems we have but scratched the surface of the endocannabinoids, meaning that it’s not only mandatory to focus on legislation and regulatory but modern society also demands more awareness and knowledge in order to widely accept medical cannabis as a strong alternative to already existing healthcare.