The US Government Has a Patent on Cannabis

patent 6630507

In perhaps one of the most unfortunate unveilings of irony, the United States government awarded itself Patent Number 6630507 entitled Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants (Hampson, 2003). You read that correctly. The very same government that has allocated millions of taxpayer dollars towards incarcerating individuals possessing cannabis has a patent on cannabis that clearly speaks to its overwhelmingly positive attributes.

The original assignee of the patent belongs to The United States Of America As Represented By The Department Of Health And Human Services and is authored by Adrian J. Hampson, Julius Axelrod, and Maurizio Grimaldi. Interestingly enough, the patent was filed one day after 4/20 on April 21, 1999 and awarded on October 7, 2003. You can view the patent in its entirety, here.

What’s in patent 6630507?

Perhaps one of the better-understood mechanisms of action behind anesthetics (drugs that cause a reversible loss of sensation) is N-Methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonization. That is, classic anesthetic drugs, like Ketamine for instance, inhibit the action of NMDA receptors – effectively preventing the neural relay of certain sensory signals and yielding a pain-relief / numbing feeling that can often result in a loss of consciousness. NMDA receptor activity has also been shown to regulate the transcription of antioxidant pathways – a mechanism that would afford neurons with the ability to protect them from free radical damage (atoms or molecules with an unpaired electron in its outer shell [free radicals] adversely react with biological cells) by regulating oxidation-reduction pathways (Lipton, 2008).

NMDA receptor’s are classically thought to be responsible for anesthetic and antioxidant efficacy. Free radicals are unstable and, much like radiation, will try and steal electrons from healthy atoms. Antioxidants help protect healthy cellular atoms by giving their electrons to the needy free-radicals.

What was deemed to fit the patent criteria of a novel discovery with utility was the fact that the patent authors showed that cannabinoids have antioxidant properties that are unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. That is, the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant are capable of achieving antioxidant effects without the traditional NMDA receptor antagonist method. The authors state:

This newfound property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

According to the authors, the diseases that stand to reap the most benefit from this patent on cannabis cannabinoids include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and HIV dementia. Furthermore, they state the neuroprotectant qualities of cannabinoids would be particularly useful in limiting the neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma. The authors claim:

This discovery was made possible because of the inventor’s recognition of a previously unanticipated antioxidant property of the cannabinoids in general (and cannabidiol in particular) that functions completely independently of antagonism at the NMDA, AMPA and kainate receptors. Hence the present invention includes methods of preventing or treating diseases caused by oxidative stress, such as neuronal hypoxia, by administering a prophylactic or therapeutically effective amount of a cannabinoid to a subject who has a disease caused by oxidative stress.

CBD Cannabidiol

A cannabidiol (CBD) molecule — the cannabinoid that the U.S government has a patent on cannabis to use as an antioxidant

What does patent 6630507 mean?

In the summary of their invention to warrant a patent on cannabis cannabinoids, the authors state:

It is an object of this invention to provide a new class of antioxidant drugs, that have particular application as neuroprotectants, although they are generally useful in the treatment of many oxidation-associated diseases.

What patent 6630507 does not insinuate is that the government doesn’t actually have a patent on cannabis as a plant. You can’t patent a plant that is found in an uncultivated state (i.e. naturally occurring).   However, what you can patent are natural product derivatives – a huge play in the pharmaceutical space. It seems as though this is what the U.S government has done in regards to CBD. CBD has been shown to have other effects outside that of an antioxidant; CBD has been shown to counteract the detrimental effects of regular cannabis use on the brain.

Thus, what seems to be the case is that the U.S government has reserved the right to isolate CBD and market it as an antioxidant. While there is a massive influx of CBD manufactures hitting the legal medical marijuana market, it appears as though so long as they do not market it as an antioxidant, they are technically in the clear. CBD companies will have to wait and see if the government decides to file suit on any company remotely or interpretably infringing on the language of patent 6630507. The term of a utility patent, to which patent 6630507 belongs, is 20 years. Thus, come 2023, the use of CBD as antioxidant will be free of any potential intellectual property litigation and, fingers crossed, federal scheduled substance prosecution.

It is certainly a bit disconcerting that the very same government that lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance owns a patent on cannabis cannabinoids as a medical application. The fact that people are currently sitting in a jail cell for a possessing a plant that the government has patented in the hopes of making a profit from (while double dipping on for-profit prisons…but we won’t get into that), probably doesn’t sit well with most pro-marijuana enthusiasts.

The authors reference previous patents in their own including U.S. Patent Numbers 5538993, 5284867, and 5434295 that all also speak to the pharmaceutical applications of cannabinoid compositions. With this, it can be safely asserted that what the Native Americans, hippies, and modern marijuana advocates have been touting for years: that marijuana is a safe, healing plant, is a view also shared by the U.S government.

It seems as though Bob Marley’s quote that “Herb is the healing of a nation” extended much further, physiologically, than his original politicized intent.

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Hampson, Aidan J., Julius Axelrod, and Maurizio Grimaldi. “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.” U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507. 7 Oct. 2003.

Lipton, Stuart A. “NMDA receptor activity regulates transcription of antioxidant pathways.” Nature neuroscience 11.4 (2008): 381-382.

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