World Mental Health Day 2023 takes place this year on 10th October, offering an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of mental health, as well as sharing new research, developments and cutting-edge solutions advancing the space. This year’s theme is ‘Mental Health is a Universal Human Right’, underscoring the right for everyone, everywhere to be able to access the advice and support they need to manage and improve their mental wellbeing.
During the COVID-19 pandemic we all became ever more aware of the need to focus on our mental health and maintain balance. We also saw in our day to day, how common it is to face emotional and mental struggles, often without saying anything to one’s environment. Mental health conditions represent a significant public health burden worldwide due to their prevalence, restricting nature and extensive impact on quality of life. Tim Mak, Principal Scientist at dsm-firmenich, explains, “Addressing mental health has become a priority for individuals, communities and healthcare systems worldwide. Poor mental wellbeing has continued to increase over the last decade, and now, one in every eight people live with a mental disorder.2 Anxiety and depression are the most common among them and can significantly impact one’s quality of life. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 4% of the global population suffer from depression and of this number, up to 75% of people in low- and middle-income countries receive no treatment at all.3 Similarly, anxiety-related disorders affect a large proportion of the adult population – up to 10%.4”
Barriers to effective support include a lack of investment in mental health education and care, limited training for healthcare providers and a lingering social stigma associated with mental disorders that prevents individuals from reaching out for help. Tim Mak describes that, in addition to these barriers there are other challenges too. “Currently we have a wide variety of treatments for these pathologies, but unfortunately, they are not effective for every patient and can have a number of unpleasant side effects. With this in mind, there is a pressing need for novel treatments that safely and effectively manage mental health disorders without causing adverse side effects. This is where cannabinoids could be a promising avenue for innovation.”
Cannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which regulates a wide range of functions in the body, including stress response and mood. This makes cannabinoids, with cannabidiol playing a prime role among them, promising candidates for the numerous ongoing studies in the mental health field, including those related to anxiety and depression.
In recent years, there has been increased research exploring the role of cannabinoids for mental health in clinical settings. For instance, a review published in 2022 revealed that CBD can effectively treat anxiety and depression, as well as other neurological complications.5 Another study published in 2021 showed that CBD was effective in reducing the stress response – including physiological responses to stress, such as elevated heart rate and cortisol levels – and was non-inferior to pharmaceutical comparators.6 Whereas a separate research group demonstrated the calming effect of CBD on the central nervous system and associated reduction in anxiety; spotlighting its potential in anxiety-related disorders.7
In a recent webinar in partnership with Manufacturing Chemist, featuring Professor José Alexandre de Souza Crippa, Department of Neurosciences and Behaviour, University of São Paulo, Brazil, dsm-firmenich discussed the latest science and promising research into whether cannabinoids could be a potential therapy for the treatment of mental health disorders. One of the topics touched on during the session was burnout. The conversation revealed that CBD has been shown to reduce the symptoms of burnout in just 30 days, and even more interestingly, when individuals stopped taking the medication, the protective effects were found to have lasted for a further 60 days.8
This promising scientific evidence is one of the reasons why cannabinoids are one of the pharmaceutical fields with the highest projected growth. There are over 200 active cannabinoid trials currently ongoing to explore the role of these unique molecules in mental health and other therapeutic areas. And there is no sign of innovation slowing down. As of 2021, the global cannabinoid market was valued at US $22.1 billion and this is projected to grow to $154 billion by the end of 2031 – signifying significant market expansion.9 In addition to this, global regulatory bodies continue to take steps to improve access to cannabinoid-based drugs, and there is a growing familiarity and acceptance of medical cannabis as a treatment avenue.
Considering all of these factors, there is a clear opening for cannabinoids to become part of the broader conversation around global mental health therapies – and the pharmaceutical industry has a huge role to play here. To help drug developers enter this emerging market, dsm-firmenich – together with strategic partner Brains Bioceutical – has created an innovation platform to facilitate early-stage cannabinoid-based drug development and support customers all along the drug development journey. Our comprehensive offering includes a robust cannabinoid API portfolio that is primed for trials, sets the bar for quality and is also available in finished dosage form. Additionally, we boast a rich pipeline of minor cannabinoids (currently in development). Our primary focus centers on delving into the scientific capabilities of cannabinoids in applications including pain relief, stress reduction, anxiety management and beyond.
Together we can catalyze progress in this dynamic field to bring next generation pharmaceuticals to the mental health space. For more information on our cannabinoid innovation platform, click below.
2. Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation. Global Health Data Exchange (GHDx), (https://vizhub.healthdata.org/gbd-results/), accessed 14 May 2022).
3. WHO. Depressive disorder (depression), https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression/?gclid=CjwKCAjw38SoBhB6EiwA8EQVLm_gcBrF56i_ssxd0v_-Hm-oDohbMBvpSL_jQ4yOB_vuW-mmVr-uzBoCmpcQAvD_BwE.
4. Jordi Alonso et al, Treatment gap for anxiety disorders is global: Results of the WorldMental Health Surveys in 21 counties, Depress Anxiety, 2018.
5. Peng et al. A narrative review of molecular mechanism and therapeutic effect of cannabidiol (CBD), BCPT, 2022.
6. Poeppl. Enhancing Endocannabinoid Control of Stress with Cannabidiol, J Clin Med., 2021.
7. Shannon et al. Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series, The Permanente Journal, 2019.
8. Souza JDS, et al., Maintained anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol after treatment discontinuation in healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Front Pharmacol. 13:856846 (2022).
9. Transparency Market Research. Cannabinoids market outlook 2031.
05 October 2023
5 min read
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