Drug development: The treasure chest

Pharmaceutical research into the chemicals found in cannabis has so far supplied only one licensed medicine. But scientists think there could be hundreds more.

The annual meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) is a highly unusual scientific conference. It has been closed to all media since its inception 25 years ago, lending an air of mystery to the gathering of researchers who study the unique chemicals found in cannabis.

In a relaxation of the organization’s long-standing policy, ICRS permitted Nature reporters to attend this year’s conference, which was hosted by Acadia University in the tiny Canadian town of Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The tight-knit group of researchers are bound together by onerous government restrictions on their subject, and by their sufferance of lingering suspicions from other scientists that they are a bunch of hippies trying to get an illicit drug legalized.

“The status of cannabis as an illegal substance makes it difficult for some people to take it seriously,” concedes Mark Ware, a pain specialist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who focuses on the analgesic properties of cannabis. Read more in Nature.