Every year the cannabis world celebrates April 20th, a.k.a. 4/20, as an unofficial cannabis holiday. The history and the story of how the tradition began have been described in many ways over the years. One thing is for certain. The industry whole-heartedly embraces the day by offering a wide range of sales promotions, new product launches, and other initiatives.
Talk is afoot to extend these activities beyond the day and create perhaps a week or a month of celebration. “Twenty days of 4/20”, “a discount every 20 minutes”, the possibilities are endless as the celebration grows beyond its humble beginning.
As we celebrate 4/20 this year - as in years past - we’ll comment on a few interesting and important developments in the industry on the research, product, and legalization fronts.
2023 marked the passing of Professor Raphael Mechoulam, the ‘Father of Cannabis Research’. Perhaps best known for the discovery of THC, Dr. Mechoulam helped to broaden the scientific understanding of cannabis and the compounds that define its bioactivity. In fact, most of the existing scientific knowledge about cannabis was discovered through his work.
Dr. Mechoulam’s research went beyond chemical characterization to describe the potential uses of cannabis compounds in medical conditions including epilepsy and autoimmune disorders. This work, in turn, set the stage for many hundreds of follow-up studies investigating the use of various compounds in treating inflammation, insomnia, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and a growing body of other applications.
A claim to Dr. Mechoulam’s investigative prowess includes a published study in the journal Nature in 1993. The ashes of an ancient 4th-century Roman woman located in a tomb had apparently died in childbirth. The investigators realized that an elixir was given to relieve the pain, and chemical analysis verified that the medicine was in fact cannabis and the first instance to be documented in the Middle East.
This study came on the heels of a landmark finding by Dr. Mechoulam describing the molecular underpinnings of the biological activity of cannabis extracts and the discovery of anandamide (N-arachodonoyleethanolamine). This compound proved to be the first member of a new family of bioactive lipids called endocannabinoids, compounds native to the body that can bind to the same receptors as exogenously administered cannabinoids such as THC. Subsequent work led to the discovery of the complex array of receptors, metabolic enzymes, and transporters that collectively made up the endocannabinoid system in the body.
Dr. Mechoulam’s impact on the field cannot be overstated. The year following the identification of the first endocannabinoid (1993) saw a tripling of the number of peer-reviewed research papers – a number that climbed 50-fold over the next four years. In 2023, studies into the medical applications of cannabis include over 1000 active clinical trials and many more ongoing research investigations.
Of the ever-increasing number of products in the cannabis space, an interesting development caught our eye in 2023. The lesser-known cannabinoids, of which there are over 100 identified to date, are making significant inroads into the product development landscape.
Compounds such as CBG, CBN, and CBC are seeing increasing popularity for their unique profiles of medical and recreational benefits. Cannabinol (CGN) is associated with analgesic and sedative properties and potential use as a sleep aid. Cannabigerol (CBG), sometimes touted as the mother of all cannabinoids as its precursor CBGA is the source compound from which many other cannabinoids are derived, is also associated with analgesic and sedative effects. Cannabichromene (CBC) is linked to pain reduction and has been implicated in many medical applications including pain management, inflammation, and cancer.
Of course, a challenge in isolating these compounds lies in the fact that they are produced naturally at concentrations many times lower than dominant cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. Advancements in genetics, extraction, and isolation techniques are making the production of enriched preparations more feasible from a product development standpoint. Alternative methods such as cultured production in specialized yeast or bacterial cultures can allow pure preparations to be obtained and used exclusively or mixed in well-defined ratios with other cannabinoids to produce enhanced effects. These abilities may allow for a more refined approach toward finding the entourage effect sweet spot specific to a given medical application.
The impact of minor cannabinoids on the industry may see significant gains throughout 2023 and beyond – with increased research helping to foster this growth.
From a broader perspective, the total U.S. economic impact generated by cannabis sales is expected to top $100 billion in 2023, up more than 12% from last year. Looking ahead, upward of $160 billion in additional spending will be added to the U.S economy in 2027, thanks to the opening and/or expansion of new recreational and medical markets in states such as New York, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky. (Source MJBiz Factbook)
It makes sense that as these markets grow, so should the tradition. Perhaps 4/20 the day will soon evolve into a much longer celebration for the industry and all parties to enjoy. Cheers