Dr Jaroslaw Szulfer: In 2014, while conducting research on one of the R&D projects I was covering for a top-tier pharmaceutical company, I stumbled upon a study about cannabinoids and endocannabinoid systems. It made me curious. I started digging deeper and soon, together with my colleague and her husband - who was the first hemp farmer in Poland - we launched a start-up focusing on hemp extracts that were rich in natural phytocannabinoids. The biggest reason for me to enter into cannabis was the fact that I've seen a number of people using cannabinoids to treat serious conditions.
Cannabinoids are the group of substances present in the cannabis plant. What is most interesting about them is that many have a similar structure to compounds naturally synthesised by our bodies called endocannabinoids - like anandamide - that activate receptors of the endocannabinoid system responsible for homeostasis. It is a coincidence that the compounds coming from the plant can generate similar responses to endogenous substances in a system that is crucial for the functioning of the whole body, making them extremely safe and promising agents to treat a number of conditions. These include epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, metabolic syndrome, cancer and many more.
We know of more than 100 different cannabinoids. Until recently, most studies were focused on delta 9 THC, which has limited potential due to its unfavourable side effects, such as getting 'high'. The second most-studied cannabinoid is CBD, or cannabidiol. Unlike THC, CBD is not intoxicating and has great medical benefits. It can be found in all cannabis plants, including so-called industrial hemp and marijuana.
It is purely a legal difference. Industrial hemp and marijuana are botanically Cannabis Sativa L. What makes the difference is the level of intoxicating THC present in the plant. If the plant is low in THC, it is classified as industrial hemp. If the THC levels are higher, it becomes marijuana.
Our company focuses on industrial hemp, which can be legally grown in the EU and is a legal source of CBD. We extract the CBD by using supercritical fluid extraction, or 'CO2 extraction'.
First and foremost, supercritical CO2 extraction is a very clean technology. It allows us to extract the natural substances present in hemp without contaminating the product with any solvents or their residues. It also allows us to extract the full spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes and other potentially beneficial substances present in cannabis.
Whole plant extracts, unlike isolated cannabinoids, contain the full spectrum of bioactive substances present in hemp, which has a tremendous impact on how they work. As proved by many studies, cannabinoids work best in synergy, generating the so-called 'entourage effect'. CBD preparations containing other cannabinoids and terpenes in their natural proportions have a much stronger effect and a much broader dosing range in which therapeutic effect is observed than single compound CBD. For this reason, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products based on the whole plant work better on patients.
The therapeutic potential for non-psychoactive CBD is undisputed, since CBD is safe and can be legally extracted from European industrial hemp. The possibilities for its applications in pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals are endless. A lot will depend on what condition we are planning to treat. We have been working with different products: soft capsules, liquid drops, topical creams and even chewing gums.
CBD has made a stunning entrance into the nutraceutical industry. Given its safe profile and benefits, I would expect this market to grow steadily, shifting towards more casual applications, such as stress relief and insomnia. Nevertheless, I firmly believe the real potential for cannabinoids is in pharmaceuticals. As the evidence of CBD's efficacy to treat serious conditions builds, innovative companies are coming up with new cannabis-based medicines. With CBD and industrial hemp extracts, regulations are no longer a problem. The community is ready and the market potential is huge.