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Modern Medicine Needs Pot In A Pill

01/13/2017 08:02 EST | Updated 01/13/2017 08:02 EST
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Dried marijuana and green capsules.

It's a perfect storm of opportunity.

With the opioid addiction crisis spiralling out of control, the medical community is desperate to find a new way to treat chronic pain.

Most of all, society needs an inexpensive prescription painkiller that doesn't do more harm than good. I mean one that's non-addictive and isn't synonymous with accidental lethal overdosing -- unlike popular opioid drugs, such as OxyContin and fentanyl.

Thankfully, medical marijuana seems to be the solution. It's non-toxic; it's not physiologically addictive; and a pain sufferer cannot overdose.

"To be fully accepted by the medical establishment, the delivery method for medical marijuana has to evolve."

But there's a catch.

To be fully accepted by the medical establishment, the delivery method for medical marijuana has to evolve. In other words, smoking or eating cannabis-infused foods must be replaced by slow-release, standardized-dosage pills or capsules. And they have to be pharmaceutical-grade.

Additionally, their legitimacy as proven drug therapies has to be backed-up by government-approved clinical trials.

As soon as this happens, patented pain-relieving formulations for pot in a pill will become multi-billion dollar "blockbuster drugs". (More on this in a moment.)

That's why some medical marijuana growers -- both in the U.S. and Canada -- have their eyes on this hugely lucrative prize.

Among the front-runners is Emerald Health Therapeutics -- a home-grown, publicly-traded start-up that is based in Victoria, BC.

The company already produces pharmaceutical-grade medical marijuana at a federal-government-approved indoor growing facility on the outskirts of the city.

However, this is not your stereotypical pot play that's all about scaling-up as quickly as possible to prepare for a looming legal recreational market.

medical marijuana

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It's not that Emerald isn't expansion-minded. With this new marketplace being valued as high as $10 billion a year by industry analysts, it represents a great source of cash flow for Emerald.

As demand increases, the company intends to scale-up its output over the next several years to as much as one million square feet of cannabis -- yielding 100,000 kilograms per annum.

How much is that? Enough for around 200 million "joints".

It's a big leap from Emerald Health's current output, which is still paltry in comparison. But the company's executive chairman, Dr. Avtar Dhillon, says he doesn't want Emerald Health to "over-build before the recreational demand is already in-place."

marijuana pill

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Courting the $24 Billion Pain Market

In the near-term, the former family-physician is determined to focus on helping people find a better, risk-free way to manage chronic pain.

Having treated thousands of people during his 12 years as a frontline medical doctor in Vancouver, he's seen it all. This includes encountering all-too-many ordinary people who had become addicted to prescription opiates -- powerful painkillers that are chemically similar to heroin.

Now he wants to be a big part of the solution.

It's a noble intention. But it is also one that could offer him and his company's investors a huge financial windfall.

After all, the pain care market is worth an estimated $24 billion worldwide.

How has this ever-growing marketplace benefited Perdue -- the manufacturer of OxyContin? It has sold over US $30 billion worth of these pills so far.

Yet medicinal cannabis is proving to be an even more effective treatment for cancer-related pain, multiple sclerosis, nausea, neuropathic pain, and PTSD.

But fewer than 5% of Canadian physicians are willing to prescribe it to patients. This is largely because of their inability to be clinically accurate in terms of dosages when prescribing it. Also, health insurance companies are still reluctant to cover the cost of cannabis-related treatments.

Once these hurdles to acceptance are overcome, the future for next-generation medicinal cannabis therapies is limitless.

marijuana pill

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Meet the Future of Medicinal Cannabis

Emerald Health's management team and directors are mostly made up of senior executives from the pharmaceutical industry.

They include company president Bin Huang, an accomplished scientist who has a PhD in plant cell biology. She also has a strong background in R&D, including developing drugs to treat pain.

2017-01-12-1484245819-3061371-BIN.jpg

Company president Bin Huang, PhD, is a renowned expert in plant cell biology.

Dr. Dhillon explains why his company is made up of so many scientists: "We have a strong focus on pharmaceutical formulations. And we've assembled a team which has deep expertise in the pharmaceutical industry. They will be using developmental protocols from the pharmaceutical industry to help change attitudes about cannabis in the medical community.

"We also have the ability to carry out in-house clinical trials to demonstrate the efficacy of our cannabinoid-based pain drug candidates. Ultimately, we're aiming to innovate standardized pharmaceutical dosage medication in a pill or capsule format.

"This could help eliminate some of the needless prescribing of opioids -- for pain that's not severe pain -- which has become a commonplace practice over the past two decades."

"It would be a testament to the expertise and sophistication of Canada's medical marijuana industry if Emerald Health succeeds."

"Big Pharma" Wades In

A British pharmaceutical company called GW Pharmaceuticals is on the verge of setting a trail-blazing precedent. It's commercializing the first big-league cannabis-based drug.

Named Epdiolex, its success in clinical trials in treating rare seizure disorders has been impressive. So much so that it's on the verge of FDA approval for the US market.

Not surprisingly, the company's share price has skyrocketed, giving GW a market capitalization of well over US $2 billion -- largely thanks to the perceived value of the patent for Epdiolex.

This reality isn't lost on Dr. Dhillon. He wants his company to earn a big-league valuation, too. But first it has to develop its own game-changing proprietary intellectual property.

His company's scientists are therefore using advanced plant genetics to bio-engineer optimal cannabis strains that can be dialled-in to treat specific types of pain.

It would be a testament to the expertise and sophistication of Canada's medical marijuana industry if Emerald Health succeeds.

Playing a meaningful role in the revolutionizing of the pain management business will earn the company great bragging rights over US competitors. Better still, it will make a lot of Canadian investors happy, too.

Best of all, it should help end the opioid addiction crisis.

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