Money Matters

How A Cannabis Company Is Taking A Page Out Of The Pharmaceutical Playbook


In the weed world, Big Pharma is typically seen as an enemy. It’s the industry that pushed opioids over a potentially safer solution to chronic pain. It’s the industry that has scored Schedule II and III status for synthetic THC, while naturally occurring THC in cannabis plants remain in Schedule I. It’s the industry that has poured money into lobbying against marijuana legalization efforts, while simultaneously selling the aforementioned synthetic THC.

But New York medical marijuana company PharmaCannis is taking techniques from pharmaceutical drug development and applying them to the plant. It’s using something known as the self-emulsifying drug delivery system to produce their PharmaCannis Capsules, increasing the efficacy of its plant-derived medical marijuana products. Well-known in the biotech world, the company says it’s the first time that the technique has been applied to cannabis.

Many patients and their doctors are more at ease with a product like the capsules, said Chris Diorio, Director of Research and Development at PharmaCannis. And on top of that, using this method of drug formulation helps achieve more precise dosing – a tricky undertaking when it comes to medical cannabis.

Diorio, for his part, spent over two decades working in the pharmaceutical industry from startup companies to giants like Pfizer. Much of his work focused on drug delivery technologies, and he sees a way forward for combining the know-how of the pharmaceutical industry with the more woo-woo world of weed.

“Smoking it is the traditional drug delivery vehicle,” he said. “But there’s a whole abundance of other methods that could potentially do a better job in a more precise manner.”

Cannabis in edible forms are notorious for taking a long time to work – usually at least 30 to 45 minutes – and produce a different effect compared to smoking or vaporizing. That’s because it takes time for the edible to make its way through the stomach, liver and intestines. And when THC reaches the liver, it gets converted to a metabolite known as 11-hydroxy-THC – a process known as the “first-pass effect.” For most oral cannabis products, this means around 85 percent or more of the cannabinoids aren’t absorbed.

The capsules prevent this from happening, essentially allowing the cannabinoids to bypass the liver and get absorbed directly in the intestines. Diorio reckons that this could increase absorption by five- or sixfold.

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