MediPen exploring if cannabis can be used to treat cancer

A laboratory in Cardiff is exploring whether certain chemicals in cannabis can be used to stop the spread of lung cancer.

WalesOnline reports MediPen, based in Pontprennau, is conducting clinical trials to find out if particular cannabinoids, chemical compounds found in the weed plant, can help in the fight against the disease.

Medicinal cannabis products are being used around the world to treat a variety of conditions including anxiety, as pain relief, and to reduce seizures in epilepsy. A very limited number of medicines containing cannabidiol, a derivative of cannabis more commonly known as CBD, have been approved for use in the UK for conditions like multiple sclerosis.

MediPen is going one step further by looking at whether cannabis can slow or even stop the spread of cancer. Since opening the facility twelve months ago, its managing director Jordan Owen claims the research has already produced some very positive results despite being in its infancy. They are now moving on to phase two of their study, which will involve injecting cannabinoids into zebra fish with cancer to see if it has a positive impact.

Jordan Owen said “We are very passionate about bringing medicinal cannabis to the UK. You look around the world and you see how far other countries have gone – and in the UK we’re lagging behind. At MediPen we are all about rapid developments. Because we have no external influences or funding we do what we want, when we want.”

He said their study is currently focusing on non-small cell lung cancer and will then move on to other forms of the disease. He said “At the moment we are in the ‘in vitro’ stage working with cell culture systems and seeing how cells react with non-psychoactive cannabinoids – and some fantastic results are coming through showing the slowdown in the spread of cancer and the metastatic process. Once we have confirmed that data and confirmed the combination of cannabinoids we want to use going forward – because the goal is to develop a treatment for lung cancer – we will move into phase two, which is working with zebra fish. In most pharmaceutical settings mice or animals with similar genes to humans are used, but the reason we are going to be using zebra fish is because they have an endocannabinoid system – receptors in the body which deal with cannabinoids.”

Carrying out this research is senior research scientist Jordan Copner, who is quickly becoming one of the leading cannabinoid experts in the UK. He believes that this research is vital and that cannabis should be made available on the NHS for medicinal use.

In January Assembly Members in Wales backed a motion by a cross-party group to lobby the UK Government to change the law.

Jordan Owen said “Dealing and overcoming the stigma around cannabis is a huge part of it, but what we want to focus on is changing the scheduling of cannabis. Right now it’s a Schedule 1 drug, which means it’s got no medicinal value according to the UK government. We want to get that changed to Schedule 2, which means it’ll be a lot easier for research to be carried out, but more importantly doctors will be able to start talking about the benefits of cannabis and potentially start getting in applications. An unregulated market does lead to organised crime, and you don’t quite know what you’re getting on the streets. But in a regulated market – which will include where it’s grown, where it’s stored, the different concentrations – all that will be sorted.”

He said there are more than one hundred different cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, which means its medical benefits are potentially wide ranging. He said “It’s about pinpointing what illness you want to work with and then selecting which cannabinoids you want to treat that illness.”

MediPen sells a range of products including its “flagship” vaporiser, which is inhaled like an e-cigarette and does not contain any of the psychoactive chemicals which get a person high. Users claim it has reduced anxiety, depression and even relieved the pain of arthritis and fibromyalgia. The company also sells cannabis drops and capsules, which Jordan Owen says are far stronger than the ones available from high street retailers.

He said “We wanted to bring a consumer product to the market. We knew there was no legislation around things like CBD – people didn’t know what it was. When we spoke to people in the Home Office or MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) they hadn’t heard of them. There was a huge gap in the market. All of the money [from the products] goes back into the company and the research. We have never had external funding. It all comes from the success of the consumer range.”

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