Medical Pot: A Drugmaker Bets on Marijuana to Treat Diabetes, Epilepsy, and More

UNITED KINGDOM: Medicinal marijuana advocates contend that smoking pot helps relieve pain and alleviate nausea. British drug company GW Pharmaceuticals (GWP:LN) is betting that medicine made from cannabis can also treat maladies as diverse as diabetes, colitis, and epilepsy.

GW is the only pharma group in the world now selling a prescription medicine derived from marijuana plants, as opposed to synthetic equivalents. The drug, a nasal spray called Sativex, has been approved by regulators in eight countries—Italy, most recently—to treat spasms associated with multiple sclerosis. A request for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval is pending.

Taking aim at a potentially much-bigger market, the company this year plans to launch second-stage clinical trials of a cannabis-based drug that has showed promise in treating Type 2 diabetes. The drug, with the tongue-twisting name of tetrahydrocannabivarin-9, improved patients’ production of insulin and helped lower blood-sugar levels between meals.

An estimated 371 million people worldwide suffer from Type 2 diabetes. Patients taking the cannabis-based drug “could potentially be controlled on oral therapy for a longer period of time and wouldn’t need to take injections,” says Mike Cawthorne, a GW consultant who is director of metabolic research at the University of Buckingham.

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