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Cannabis and Medicine: The Health Effects of Cannabinoids Are the New Frontier

For nearly a century, the use of cannabis has been frowned upon–if not outright illegal. But years of scientific research has finally started to turn the tide, both legislatively and in the court of public opinion. Now, with growing evidence of the intersection between cannabis and medicine, numerous jurisdictions are softening their stance. Why? Because when it comes to pain management, and treatment for certain serious afflictions, the health effects of cannabinoids are the new frontier.

Chanda Macias talking medical cannabis
Cannabis and medicine are growing more and more intertwined.

The Science Behind the Shift

Research into the health effects of cannabinoids has dredged up some curious information. As per a recent article on Artemis Capital:

Over the last several decades, much has been learned about how medicinal marijuana exerts its beneficial effects on health. Researchers have identified the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS) in our bodies, which is where marijuana exerts its health effects. The ECS is quite extensive and regulates a variety of physiologic processes in our brain and bodies including the immune function, pain control, mood, memory, appetite and even temperature regulation. The ECS primarily consists of two key cell receptors where medicinal cannabis interacts which results in the benefits of cannabis:

  • CB-1 receptors, which are primarily located in our brain and spinal cord. CB-1 receptors have been shown to be important in mitigating pain response and other sensations.
  • CB-2 receptors, which tend to be located throughout our bodies. CB-2 receptors are more involved in inflammation and immune system regulation.

In terms of medicinal cannabis, both plant-based cannabinoids and pharmacologically-created ones exist. Plant-based cannabinoids, also called phytocannabinoids, are derived directly from the plant. Roughly 113 different phytocannabinoids have been identified to date. These include THC, CBD, CBG and others with the overwhelming majority being non-intoxicating. All of these have the potential to interact with CB-1 and CB-2 receptors in our bodies; however, they differ in terms of the specific effects and interactions throughout the body. This is why several benefits of cannabis are being progressively appreciated as research unfolds.

DEA executive talks medical cannabis
Research into cannabis and medicine would’ve been impossible without easing regulatory restriction.

Governmental Support Driving the Change

Decades of regulatory restriction made extensive research into cannabinoids tough, if not impossible. Thankfully, shifting public sentiment gave way to a lifting of some of those restrictions in the name of scientific research. What has that research wrought? Clear evidence that medical cannabis is an effective treatment for:

  • Pain management
  • Autism
  • Opioid addiction
  • Epilepsy
  • Cancer
  • Multiple sclerosis

In light of these discoveries, and the knowledge that research into the health effects of cannabinoids continues, one question remains: What’s next?

Plant-Based Burger Wars — Will McDonald’s Veggie Burger Soon Be in the US?

In case you haven’t heard, “non-meat” burgers are all the rage. In fact, some predict that the alternative protein food market could reach $140 billion worldwide within 10 years. That kind of financial projection means several fast-food chains are beginning to introduce plant-based burgers and other sandwiches on their menus. Citing growing consumer demand, these restaurants believe the future will include these types of food items. And apparently, Mickey D’s agrees as it begins to test the waters for its own plant-based burger—the McDonald’s veggie burger.

McDonald's veggie burger cartoon
The P.L.T.— McDonald’s veggie burger —will sell for $5, and it boasts of 460 calories with 25 grams of fat!

It was recently announced that McDonald’s veggie burger—i.e., the “P.L.T.”, which stands for “plant, lettuce and tomato”—would be tested in select stores in Canada. Unlike other alternative protein sandwich pursuits, McDonald’s veggie burger involves a partnership with Beyond Meat. Already, Beyond Meat has demonstrated success with other fast-food chains. And the company does offer a greater variety of options than other plant-based burger competitors. Still, whether the McDonald’s veggie burger is a success or not has yet to be determined. If it is, then we may well see the P.L.T. in U.S. stores soon.

The History of the McDonald’s Veggie Burger

This case is not the first time that McDonald’s—the world’s largest fast-food chain—has explored a plant-based burger. In Finland and Sweden, the company partnered with a Norwegian corporation named Orkla. Based on local demand in these countries, McDonald’s veggie burger (called the “McVegan”) is commonly available. Likewise, McDonald’s partnered with Nestlé in Germany to create its “Big Vegan T.S.” Naturally, it had been assumed that any plant-based burger in the U.S. would involve one of these two companies. Thus, the partnership with Beyond Meat to create a North American McDonald’s veggie burger represents a clear shift.

McDonald’s P.L.T. is currently available in 28 locations in Southwest Ontario for 12 weeks. The experiment represents a test to evaluate consumer demand as well as franchise logistics. McDonald’s veggie burger will sell for $5 (i.e., 6.49 Canadian dollars), and it boasts of 460 calories with 25 grams of fat. In addition to the Beyond Meat plant-based burger patty, the P.L.T. will have lettuce, onions, tomato and optional cheese. Obviously, McDonald’s, as well as Beyond Meat, is hoping for the P.L.T. to be a big hit.

plant-based burgers make cows happy
Is the McDonald’s veggie burger the sign of the Apocalypse?

Plant-Based Burger Wars — A Rapidly Evolving Landscape

The release of McDonald’s veggie burger in North America looks to be in response to Burger King’s own plant-based burger. Recently, Burger King partnered with Impossible Foods to create a veggie Whopper, available for a limited time throughout the U.S. Likewise, other fast-food franchises are similarly considering plant-based burgers and other related food items. White Castle, Qdoba, and Bareburger are a few of these companies. It would appear that McDonald’s needs to consider a plant-based burger of its own to stay atop of its market.

Choosing Beyond Meat may have been an excellent idea. Unlike Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat has other alternative protein products. This detail has led to an agreement with Kentucky Fried Chicken for plant-based chicken nuggets. Likewise, Dunkin’ Donuts serves breakfast sandwiches with Beyond Meat’s offerings. Given this matter, the McDonald’s veggie burger may just be the first in alternative protein items. Beyond Meat could potentially partner with McDonald’s on other fast food items as well.

Woman talking about plant-based burgers in relation to the recently launched McDonald's veggie burger
With the rise of the plant-based burger, it’s a strange, new world.

Statistics Favor Continued Growth of Plant-based Burgers

Notably, less than 10 percent of people consider themselves true vegans or vegetarians. However, this statistic doesn’t tell the entire story. Overall, almost 40 percent of Americans say they are striving to eat more plant-based foods. This number reflects a sizable portion of the nation—and one that McDonald’s likely acknowledges. Since the McDonald’s veggie burger announcement, stock markets have paid attention as well. In fact, Beyond Meat’s stock has since risen nearly 12 percent in value. It clearly should be interesting to see how the plant-based burger test plays out for McDonald’s. Nevertheless, most seem to be somewhat optimistic about the P.L.T.’s future.

McDonald’s Veggie Burger Cartoon

McDonald's veggie burger cartoon
The P.L.T.— McDonald’s veggie burger —will sell for $5, and it boasts of 460 calories with 25 grams of fat!