Marijuana Genetic Code Unlocked, New Treatments Underway
A company called Medicinal Genomics has published the genetic code for the marijuana plant, specifically the cannabis species Cannabis sativa and C. indica. This advancement opens the door to new treatments using the highly controversial plant, which has been legalized in 16 states for medicinal purposes.
A new cannabis-based drug is approved for MS
Now that about 131 billion base pairs of genetic information from the entire genomes of the cannabis species have been released, the data could potentially fuel a great number of treatment innovations and make compounds derived from marijuana easier to produce. One of the latest additions to the growing arsenal of marijuana-based medications is an oromucosal spray called Sativex, which is for spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.
Sativex has been approved in Canada (since 2005), New Zealand, UK, and others, but not the United States, where it is an investigational drug being developed as an additive treatment for patients who have persistent pain associated with advanced cancer.
Although sequencing the cannabis was not an easy task, the results of the exhaustive efforts could be fruitful. GW Pharmaceuticals, which produced Sativex, has an extensive international network of scientists working on cannabinoid (cannabis compounds) research in areas such as central nervous system disorders and cancer.
Research into the use of cannabis to help cancer patients is a high priority around the world. A new study published in Cell Death and Differentiation reports that cannabinoids were able to inhibit tumor growth in a lab model of liver cancer. Another recent study, from St. George’s University of London, explored the use of cannabinoids to reduce inflammation associated with cancer.
A university in Madrid, Spain, recently released the results of research into the effectiveness of cannabinoids in breast cancer. Investigators there found “strong preclinical evidence for the use of cannabinoid-based therapies” for the management of a certain type of breast cancer.
There are, of course, the studies and the anti-drug advocates announcing the health damaging aspects of marijuana. The development of cannabis for medicinal use and use of marijuana for recreational purposes, however, are not the same thing.
Marijuana is a botanical, and like many plants, it has the potential to provide a great number of useful medicines. The unlocking of the genetic code for marijuana may help scientists realize that potential.
Caffarel MM et al. Molecular Cancer 2010 Jul 22; 9:196
Liu WM et al. Current Clinical Pharmacology 2010 Nov 1; 5(4): 281-87
Vara D et al. Cell Death Differentiation 2011 Jul; 18(7): 1099-111
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