The ethical issues concerning pharmaceutical companies are ripe for debate. Morally they have a responsibility over humanity to provide affordable healthcare as well as consistently providing new alternatives to the current ‘status quo’ of medicine available. This requires them to pioneer research and in doing so, provide a newer and better range of medicines for the public.
On the other hand, they must survive in the capitalist market, bending to general public demand to sell products to satisfy the general need of the 95% whilst considering maximising profit for themselves. So, does good prevail over profit concerning companies that are currently working on innovative research regarding cannabidiol (CBD)?
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Why would big pharma want a monopoly?
Currently, anybody can enter the CBD chain at any point they wish to do so, from growing the crops to extracting the cannabinoids to setting up a shop and selling the final products, there are no rules about who can do what. This is because CBD falls under the category of being a ‘health and wellness’ supplement. However, the law states that CBD sold under this banner must not have any medical claims made about it.
As research into CBD has increased, it has been seen that CBD does in fact hold medicinal value, so as well as being regarded as a health and wellness supplement, it is also regarded as a medicine. This means only licensed pharmaceutical vendors can produce such medicines and it can only be accessed from trained medical professionals through a prescription.
Therefore, if more research concludes that CBD holds lots of medicinal value in the future, pharmaceutical companies who produce it as a medicine could lobby for legislation change in parliament (potentially with a backhand payment of some kind) which would see CBD lose its ‘health and wellness’ status which would mean that they get a monopoly on CBD in the future.
Is this just a conspiracy?
Unfortunately, this way of thinking doesn’t just exist for the CBD industry. It is a consistent complaint from the smaller companies in the supplement industry towards the medicinal industry. It is also not hard to understand why the pharmaceutical industry wouldn’t want all the money.
The story goes that the powers that be in the big pharmaceutical companies are either preventing research into cannabis-based medicines to maximise profits on what they currently have on sale. Or they are trying to prevent the sale of CBD in the ‘health and wellness’ market so that they can patent and be the sole providers of CBD so that they again, can maximise profits. You can understand either scenario when you look at specific companies.
Let’s take those that produce the common anti-inflammatory/painkiller that almost every household has in their cupboards for things such as back pain – ibuprofen. Scientifically it is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) that is used to treat pain due to its ability to reduce inflammation. Inflammation is an immune response of the body in response to bacteria and viruses. In autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system is tricked into thinking there are foreign ‘invaders’ and therefore wrongly damaging itself.
The amount of major and minor diseases in which inflamed tissues are a symptom to be cured is ridiculously high. Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs are currently produced by pharmaceutical companies to combat this inflammation. However, there is a threshold to how much ibuprofen you can take before it becomes damaging to the liver, hence the limits quoted on every packet you’ll find.
You can understand that when research into a substance with no known upper threshold as well as no known abuse potential starts to produce positive research into it being an anti-inflammatory, that pharmaceutical companies will sit up and listen.
Research has and is being conducted into CBD being an anti-inflammatory. This sort of research is damaging to the profits of those that produce NSAIDs.
Two popular, over-the-counter American brands, Advil and Poise are believed to be worth around $500m each. So even if 10% of people decided to opt for CBD instead of these brands, unless they increased prices to combat this then the respective brands total value could fall by $50m each. If the companies that produce these two brands (as well as hundreds of others that ibuprofen is marketed under i.e. ibuprofen in the UK) care about their profits, then you could make a case for why they wouldn’t want CBD to become readily available.
Who holds patents for medical production of CBD?
Anybody who has investigated any medical research concerning CBD will most likely have heard of Sativex or Epidiolex. Both are cannabis-based medicines produced by the UK-based pharmaceutical company called GW Pharmaceuticals. GW Pharmaceuticals has a US subsidiary called Greenwich BioScience.
You may or may not be surprised to know that organized attempts from lobbyists of these companies have been made to influence the law upon CBD for it to only be made legally available by influencing how it is scheduled by the FDA. This means that only people who are prescribed CBD would have access to it.
No other pharmaceutical company has CBD-based medicines currently available in the medicinal market apart from GW Pharmaceuticals. If the bill had been passed by the FDA to ban the wide range of CBD containing products on the market, then it would be GW Pharmaceuticals that would have had a complete monopoly upon CBD available to the public.
Fortunately, the down-scheduling of CBD to medicinally approved medication hasn’t occurred, yet.
The cannabis-based medication produced by GW Pharmaceuticals contains both THC and CBD, the main components of cannabis, a substance in which the prime minister of the UK, Theresa May has commented on, stating “It is right that we continue to fight the war against drugs”. Interestingly, the main investors into GW Pharmaceuticals is a company called Capital Group, of which a certain Philip May is a senior executive.
So, the husband of the woman who has the power to decriminalise cannabis profits from the fact that it is a banned substance.
If we look further into the rabbit-hole, we find the stern-faced Conservative drugs minister Victoria Atkins. A woman whose very job is to investigate drugs reform, happens to have a husband who grows cannabis plants in the UK that supplies GW Pharmaceuticals.
You might be confused into thinking that growing cannabis containing THC in the UK is illegal, but you’d be wrong if you change the definition to ‘raw cannabis’ and then place ‘raw cannabis’ products as Schedule 2 instead of Schedule 1, meaning that it is now distinct from just plain, old cannabis, whilst still being exactly the same thing.
Currently, the amount of money that GW Pharmaceuticals are bringing into the UK through sale of products in America is astronomical. The amount of money to be made in the UK is a drop in the ocean in comparison, but as soon as the capitalist machine has its cogs turning, the desire to maximise profits always occurs, so it could be a reality in our future that we will only get CBD from big pharma or the best wholesale distillate providers.