A number of alarming reports began to surface late last week, which suggested that a drug study in France involving an experimental cannabis-based medication was responsible for the “brain death” of one person and the severe injury of several others. However, it was later revealed that the drug responsible for this tragedy was not a derivative of the cannabis plant, but rather a painkiller that stimulates the endocannabinoid system.
Last Thursday, the French media published a number of shocking stories implying that an experimental drug rooted in cannabis therapy had sent several people to the hospital for brain damage. It was later confirmed by the France’s Health Ministry that six people had been transported to Rennes University Hospital for various irreversible neurological conditions, one of which was pronounced brain dead shortly after arrival. However, the BBC was one of the first to receive confirmation from the health ministry that the medication at the core of this disaster was not a cannabis-based pharmaceutical. Yet no further clarification was made about the origin of the drug until later.
It turns out the drug was a fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) inhibitor, which is said to rot away at the endocannabinoids in the brain. For the past few years, researchers have been testing these types of drugs for pain management because they supposedly mimic the health benefits of cannabinoids without creating the stoned effects. Essentially, FAAH tears away at the natural cannabinoids in the body, activating the very receptors that bind to THC. The study drug was designed to cripple this process, which in turn creates a shield for pain.
Documents covering the study process indicate that the drug (BIA 10-2474) was to be tested on healthy volunteers for two weeks in the Biotrial research facility in Rennes. Each participant was to consume the drug for 10 consecutive days, while the staff conducted a number of blood tests and other health evaluations. In exchange for participation, each volunteer was set to receive around $2,700 upon the completion of the study.
Although Biotrial was handling the clinical trail, this particular drug was actually developed by the Portuguese pharmaceutical company Bial. Interestingly, several other pharmaceutical companies, including Jansen: Johnson and Johnson, Merck, and Pfizer, are all working to develop these types of FAAH inhibitors for conditions ranging from anxiety to insomnia. In fact, there is currently a clinical trial underway at Yale University in which these types of drugs are being tested for possible treatment of cannabis withdrawals. So far, none of these experimental drugs are believed to cause brain damage, but that is not to say that they couldn’t.
Apparently, Bial’s drug had been given to 84 other volunteers, none of which showed signs of any brain deterioration after going through a series of medical examinations over the weekend – that’s the good news. Unfortunately, no one is exactly sure what caused the six people in France to suffer such a disastrous reaction to the drug. Right now, all of the possibilities are purely speculation. Some have suggested that the accident may have been the result of improper dosage, while others point toward impurities in the drug.
Perhaps what is most frightening is that this tragic event will in no way deter the study of FAAH inhibitors in an effort to create a cash cow for major pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, the cannabis plant continues to be demonized across most of the planet, despite the fact that it has proven medicinal benefits and is completely incapable of putting users in a lifelong vegetative state.