One thing is sure, people’s relationship with cannabis has never been a boring one!

This plant has accompanied civilization for thousands of years, only to become an illegal drug throughout most of the 20th century. Now, with increasing legitimization, it is not just regaining its former popularity, but science is discovering the broad potential of cannabis. Technology envisions new and exciting applications, not only for medicine, but for a diversity of industries, from pharma to cosmetics, food supplements and pet food.


The Highs and Lows of Cannabis History

It has been called many things: weed, pot, marijuana, grass… you name it. Since prehistoric times, the cannabis plant was harvested by human beings for its seeds, oil, and leaves, to be used for medicinal purposes, toolmaking, clothing, religious rituals and recreational purposes. Originating in central Asia, the Daoist monks of China burned and inhaled the plant, while according to the Ancient Greeks, the Eurasian Scythians would take cannabis steam baths. Despite its therapeutic and ritualistic importance in a variety of cultures around the world, the 20th century saw a shift in attitude towards the cannabis plant. In the USA, its sale and use were first restricted in 1937, criminalized in 1951, and was finally completely illegal by 1970. Europe was just as intolerant, and the rest of the world followed suit. In fact, by 1961 the United Nations had banned cannabis. The drug was considered dangerous, highly addictive, and void of well-founded benefits. As a consequence, the banned plant lost its attractiveness to scientific research, and even curious researchers could hardly get their hands on the substance.

The 90’s marked the beginning of the reconciliation with cannabis. The plant’s medical virtues could no longer be ignored and today, more and more politicians and institutes openly endorse the use of cannabis, leading to deeper studies of its nature.

This family of three plants includes the Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. The leaf contains more than 120 components known as cannabinoids, most of which aren’t well understood. These chemical compounds interact with cannabinoid receptors everywhere in our body, whether it’s the digestive tract, muscle tissue, or the brain. Among the more researched compounds are cannabidiol, aka CBD, and tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is responsible for the high experience. A better grasp of the components and their possible applications has taken a broad approach, with industries exploring the plant’s potential across the board.


An Abundance of Medical Virtues

The compounds CBD and THC can help treat pain, inflammation, epileptic seizures, and neurodegeneration. These very welcome benefits encourage the pharmaceuticals market to capitalize on the plant. For example, MGC Pharmaceuticals is to become the first cannabis company to list on the London Stock Exchange, illustrating the leaf’s booming popularity and legitimacy. Another sign of the changing winds is the purchase of UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals for $7.2 billion by the international biopharma company Jazz Pharmaceuticals. The latter company would continue to produce and sell GW’s Epidiolex, one of the first cannabinoid-based medicines ever approved for the treatment of epilepsy. In the last decade CBD has been even recruited to fight a leading cause of death: cancer. By interacting with fundamental mechanisms of cell regulation, CBD oil has shown to slow down the growth and proliferation of cancer cells. Nevertheless, more research is required before this technique is boardly approved and optimized.  


Where Health meets Stomach and Skin

Besides tapping into the therapeutic virtues of cannabis for humans, the last decade’s enthusiasm is seen in less obvious sectors. The food industry is finding all sorts of unexpected applications. American entrepreneur Martha Stewart has developed CBD-infused dog treats. These chewy pet products answer the needs dogs share with humans for reducing anxiety and relaxing, or even treating aches and pains. For those without pets, Israeli-based Cannibble FoodTech announced a new brand in its line of cannabis-based food. The edibles include over a hundred powder-based instant mixes, all enhanced with cannabinoids and hemp. They can be used in shakes, popcorn butter and yes – even pizza toppings.

Meanwhile, some companies are focusing on the backend, trying to enhance the qualities of cannabis. Israeli startup RCK specializes in cannabis genetics and their ambition hasn’t remained unnoticed. The company signed a million dollars deal with a Dutch company, SeedTech, in order to develop unique cannabis strains in the form of elite hybrid seeds for the sake not only of mass-producing medical cannabis, but also for commercial uses such as food and cosmetics.

Speaking of cosmetics, this industrial sector is also experiencing its green revolution. Harnessing the anti-inflammatory and anti-pain properties of CBD makes it ideal for skin care, such as Mibelle Biotech’s encapsulated CBD product and wellness brand Sagely’s creams and ingestibles. Another cosmetics company called Rest Day has gone as far as launching CBD-based bath soaks as selfcare products. These are no isolated cases; this very year, the European Commission has added CBD to its cosmetic ingredient database CosIng. This development, beyond reflecting a trend, could help further legitimize the plant’s use and spark innovation in the sector.


The Leap into the Right Side of the Law

For cannabis to be truly embraced by the industry, it’s not enough to have entrepreneurial enthusiasm – fulfilling its potential depends on legal status. Fortunately, governments and institutions are stepping up to the occasion. The United Nations has been gradually adopting more progressive, or at least lenient, views about cannabis. This year, the U.S. Congress introduced a bill to legalize the use of CBD and other cannabinoids in dietary supplements. In addition, the government’s willingness to legalize cannabis on the federal level could help reduce the dependence on medical opioids and allow more and better opportunities for pharmaceutical manufacturers. In the United Kingdom progress has been hesitant, but since 2018, cannabis products for medicinal use were made available for prescription for limited circumstances.


High Expectations

After decades of mistrust, bans and restrictions, cannabis is making a tremendous comeback. Now that all lights are green, science and technology are harnessing the power of the green leaf, and not just for medicinal use. There’s still a lot to learn about this fascinating plant, including the possible and existing risks, but that doesn’t prevent expectations to be high when it comes to the cannabis revolution.