Steroids on steroids? With lab-made “super potent” cannabinoids we’re on the verge of transforming our ability to treat inflammatory-driven disease

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What if we could add to or even replace steroids, the current gold standard treatment for serious inflammation, with something both stronger and safer? Namely, a “super potent” lab-made cannabinoid with “unique super anti-inflammatory properties … much better than … steroids … that might change the landscape for anti-inflammatory drugs.” What’s more, they’ve proven safe in animal models; for example, they have none of the toxic effects associated with steroids such as damage to liver enzymes, osteoporosis, cataracts, and suppression of the immune system,” thus allowing you to use them for long periods of time.

Those are the words of Prof. Dan Peer, director of the Laboratory of Precision Nano Medicine at Tel Aviv University. He’s talking about an Israeli company he’s involved with that’s developing lab-made (“synthetic”) cannabinoids designed to treat inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis; and psoriasis, each a hard-to-treat autoimmune disease. A future target will be acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) like that seen in severe Covid-19 patients. Testing in humans for the autoimmune conditions is to begin next year and will be under US FDA guidance.

There’s a trick to the development of these “super potent” cannabinoids: the lab-built molecule isn’t the CBD or THC you get at the store – it’s the precursor to them, which happens to be an acid (carboxylic acid, not that it matters) – hence the designation CBDA and THCA (A = acid). You want to duplicate these in the lab exactly because they’re “super potent,” compared to good old CBD or THC as well as the steroids. (When you get CBD and THC from the store you’re actually getting CBDA and THCA. But when you light it – i.e. apply heat – you knock off (“decarboxylate”) the carboxylic acid group, the very thing that gives cannabis its super anti-inflammatory property.)

Building a synthetic analogue to something found in nature isn’t new – it’s how we get aspirin, for example. It’s key ingredient is salicyclic acid, a white powder found in the bark of willow trees. But growing willow trees, extracting the acid, formulating a consistent dose and so on, is unwieldy – just as it is to do the same thing with the cannabis plant. That’s why you go to the lab: it’s cheaper, quicker, easier to scale up, and you get the very same molecule and dose, without contaminants, each and every time.

One more thing: Building a prescription medicine superior to steroids is a Really Big Deal. That’s because we now know that inflammation is the culprit that drives so many, and seemingly unrelated, diseases – thus explaining the Isreali company’s development of cannabinoids for a number of autoimmune diseases affecting the gut and skin, as well as for the inflammatory condition in the lung that drives Covid-19.

Here’s the medical people – authorship reveals a top drawer worldwide consensus – describing the vast reach of chronic inflammation:

One of the most important medical discoveries of the past two decades has been that the immune system and inflammatory processes are involved in not just a few select disorders, but a wide variety of mental and physical health problems that dominate present-day morbidity and mortality worldwide. Indeed, chronic inflammatory diseases have been recognized as the most significant cause of death in the world today, with more than 50% of all deaths being attributable to inflammation-related diseases such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and autoimmune and neurodegenerative conditions.

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