How recent advances in toxicology will revolutionize the medical cannabis industry: Part 1


There are two major revolutions unfolding whose paths are about to cross … not only for the betterment of the cannabis and hemp industries but for the future of toxicology as well.  

This multi-part article will describe these revolutions and how they will intersect.

Part 1: Introduction

Gene expression analysis data and the cannabinoid biosynthesis pathway. Reproduced from van Bakel et al. (2011) in  Genome Biology .

Gene expression analysis data and the cannabinoid biosynthesis pathway. Reproduced from van Bakel et al. (2011) in Genome Biology.

In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants and the other is getting it.
— Oscar Wilde

After several thousands of years of cultivation as a medicinal plant, the proponents of medical cannabis have finally “gotten what one wants” in the form of state-sanctioned production and regulatory programs.  Now what?  There are a handful of cannabinoid-based products on the market that have been approved by the US Food & Drug Administration, each with its own sets of pros and cons and all developed without the incredible toolbox that has been developed in recent years to understand and measure how chemicals interact with biological systems on a molecular basis.

Today, we stand at the convergent crossroads of an enormous legislative shift (i.e. the liberalization of cannabis laws and the resultant rapid expansion of a new agricultural, drug and consumer product industry) and an equally enormous paradigmatic shift in the fields of toxicology and pharmacology.  Our increased ability to understand how chemicals lead to biological activity from a “mode of action” perspective (from experiments such as the gene expression data shown above) can be harnessed to establish the next generation of cannabis-based drugs, drawing on the ongoing interdisciplinary efforts of the toxicology, computational biology, bioinformatics and analytical testing communities. (I will describe "mode of action" and its importance in Part 2.)

By understanding on a more refined level how cannabinoid-based drugs lead to biological activity via "pathways of toxicity" from cells to organ systems, the advanced techniques and approaches used in pharmacology & toxicology (and by many pharmaceutical and chemical companies) can be brought to the development of cannabinoid drugs.  This will revolutionize the medical cannabis industry in a way that reduces animal use, leads to drugs with fewer side effects, leads to more efficacious formulations and could simplify introductions of products to the market by avoiding the large expensive and longer timelines to approval associated with long-term animal tests.  It will also provide insight into the development of future assays to demonstrate product safety in the non-medical marketplace. 


Next ... Part 2: The Future of Toxicology.