Article: Colombia Leads in Medical Cannabis

Cannabis and COVID-19?

Cannabis and COVID-19?

Jan. 28, 2022

by Babak Babali

Potential applications of medical cannabis for treating COVID-19 are under research, as crop growth booms in Colombia.

Disclaimer: This article sets out to explore the medical cannabis industry including in Colombia and by no means encourages the recreational use of cannabis in countries or territories where consumption is a criminal offense.

The medical doctor (MD) consulted for the compilation of this article also maintains that pharmaceutical products derived from cannabis, even if dispensed with a prescription, should never be used in doses exceeding the prescribed amount as most formulations contain chemicals other than cannabis oil, which can be potentially toxic.

Seeds of Satan? Not anymore!

If you grew up at any period between the 1950s and the 2000s, you must have watched your fair share of marijuana-will-melt-your-brain public information films.

Over the last couple of years, however, the cultivation and use of cannabis has been increasingly decriminalized across the world—though not everywhere.

This has changed the public attitude toward the cannabis plant and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant's main psychoactive compound. Many pharmaceutical researchers, too, have turned to THC and other cannabis derivatives to investigate their medical potential in various areas from chronic pain management to mental health.

Marijuana to the rescue

Quite recently—and under the specter of the COVID-19 pandemic —researchers at Oregon State University in the US found out that two non-THC ingredients found in cannabis leaves stop the alpha and beta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus, more commonly known as COVID-19, from infecting human cells. The results were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Natural Products.

It must be said that the effective antivirus ingredients identified in hemp were cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA).

Any potential COVID-19 medications derived from hemp in the future, therefore, will lack the famous psychoactive compound THC, so do not expect it to give you a high as a bonus while protecting you against COVID-19.

Colombia leading the way

In Colombia, meanwhile, medical researchers have been trying to use cannabis in various pharmaceutical formulations. Given Colombia's conducive topsoil for the cultivation of hemp and year-round regular sunshine, the country has long been a hemp manufacturer. Long (12-hour) sunny days, high altitude from the sea level, and the absence of cold seasons are exactly the sort of conditions which make hemp bushes flourish.

Economic prospects

As the cost of growing marijuana for medical purposes in Colombia is negligible, there is little wonder that pharmaceutical manufacturers focusing on hemp are flocking to Colombia. “Investment in Colombian medical marijuana has picked up, with the government reporting more than USD250 million in foreign funding in the sector," according to CNN Business.

The large-scale production of cannabis costs USD1-2 per gram in the US and Canada, where as the figure is around USD0.05 in Colombia. Colombia, therefore, can export its cultivated weed to its northern neighbors with a huge profit of margin, to say nothing of the European markets which are opening up.

Asia and Russia, at the moment, maintain a tough stance against cannabis. However, if they ever changed their mind, they will be potential customers for Colombian cannabis as well.

The rebranding of cannabis

Before the legalization in 2016, Colombia spent a huge deal of financial resources and manpower to fight underground growing operations controlled by dangerous cartels. Now, however, the country is enjoying remarkable foreign exchange with the export of hemp-based healthcare products, which have improved greatly over the last six years, thanks to pharmaceutical research and development (R&D).

Until recently, only processed cannabinoids with medical use were cleared for export. Since July, 2021, there has been a huge a turnaround in policies, allowing the export of dry weed to markets where cannabis is legalized.

This business, as one can guess, has been truly lucrative, with the US buying well over 50% of high-quality dry weed flowers cultivated in Colombia. The legalization of medical marijuana in 2016 effectively opened the lucrative markets of the EU and the US. With the rise of marijuana industry and the foreign direct investment (FDI) that it brings to Colombia, cannabis's image is already changing from a recreational, brain-melting substance to a plant with legitimate medicinal uses.