Companies rush to patent cannabis

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It sounds like the sort of paranoid fantasy that emerges after a long night around the bong. "Dude, you know The Man is going to patent this stuff right?" "Weed? No way dude." "Way, dude." "No way" . . . and so forth until someone musters up the energy to go and see what's in the fridge.

There is substance to the story though. Pharmaceutical companies are exploring the possibilities of patenting, if not marijuana itself, then the cannabinoids that can be developed for medical use. The use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes is hardly novel, but companies are competing for the rights to the commercial exploitation of the narcotic that is banned in most countries.

As an example, the UK based GW Pharmaceuticals has filed a patent for "Phytocannabinoids", a piece of pharmaceutical jargon that actually covers a broad range of cannabinoids derived from the marijuana plant. GWP already manufactures Sativex, an oral spray derived from cannabis.

It would be difficult to imagine anything more likely to antagonise the average stoner than the thought of Big Pharma muscling in on their "natural" product, even if much of the stuff they smoke is cultivated in very sophisticated botanical labs in Holland rather than grown in a discreet window box.

GWP's patent claims have been a little cheeky though, and they have had to withdraw several of them. They claimed a patent for use of cannabinoids as a cancer treatment, a practice which has been occurring for decades. The anomaly of patent claims is that they don't necessarily have to be original; they just need to be the first to establish a commercial product.

GWP's biggest competition, ironically, comes from the US government, which has established several patents for the medical use of cannabinoids. In the US, the governments holds patents for the use of cannabis in treatment of many medical conditions, including dementia, strokes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and auto-immune ailments. "Dude, the Government controls the dope supply," isn't too far from the truth.

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