The same government that’s waging war against marijuana also holds a patent on its health benefits.
Sound like something out of an Oliver Stone film? It’s not. This patent exists. It’s been on file since the Clinton Administration, when the U.S. government applied for it based on the work of distinguished researchers including a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist from the National Institute of Mental Health.
The team had examined cannabinoids—chemicals unique to the cannabis plant—and found that they had the potential for a myriad of medical uses. The patent application specifically mentions that the compounds have applications as “neuroprotectants,” limiting brain damage following a traumatic injury or stroke or treating neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The researchers labeled one compound “particularly advantageous”: Cannabidiol.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the less-famous sibling of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While both cannabinoids affect a person’s central nervous system, THC is what causes the mood and perception changes associated with being “high.” Cannadibiol doesn’t do that. In fact, there are indications that CBD decreases THC’s psychoactive effects, and curbs the anxiety THC produces. There are no known negative side effects of CBD.
The 1990s NIMH research team found that both THC and CBD were neuroprotectants. But they liked Cannabidiol as a treatment because it did not have mind-altering effects.
Today, with medical marijuana legal in 23 states, CBD is getting more attention for it’s potential uses. Videos purport to show it curbing seizures in children afflicted by severe epilepsy. In a speech delivered this summer before a Senate panel, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, listed seven potential medical uses for the compound, including:
- Fighting tumors: In lab tests on animals and isolated cancer cells, CBD increased cell death and decreased tumor growth.
- Reducing seizures: The kids in the videos aren’t alone. Volkow said two decades worth of research on lab animals indicates that CBD reduces the severity of seizures, while cautioning that cases of effective treatment in humans are anecdotal, with only 48 people total having taken part in any type of randomized clinical trial testing CBD on epilepsy.
- Limiting psychotic episodes: Interestingly, CBD appears to be helpful to people who’ve had too much marijuana. The drug can induce anxiety and even “acute psychosis”—hallucinations, agitation, delusion—at high doses. CBD may mitigate those effects, Volkow said, and could also help people who suffer from schizophrenia.
- Protecting the brain: A recent double-blind trial found that CBD improved the quality of life in Parkinson’s patients, and that animal studies indicate the compound can be helpful against Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and other neurodegenerative diseases.
The “brain protection” potential brings us back to the patent. The government recently granted an exclusive license to develop medical treatment under it to a company named Kannalife, which wants to use it to develop a treatment for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disease found in many former NFL players. Former Denver Bronco Marvin Washington and Dr. Bennet Omalu, the physician who first identified CTE and whose story is depicted in the upcoming Will Smith movie Concussion, sit on Kannalife’s advisory board.
According to Kannalife’s CEO, Dean Petkanas, the company has two potential treatments in development, and expects to complete safety and toxicity studies on them in 2016.
So in the not-so-distant future, CBD may be a “drug” in a “pill you get from a pharmacy” sense, and not a “bought it from a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy” sense. And you could be the healthier man as a result.