Spices and Medicine


2019 Oct 9: UCL Frank Fish Memorial Lecture

The annual Frank Fish Memorial 2019 Lecture and reception was held on Wednesday 9th October, 2019, at the UCL School of Pharmacy. This immediately followed the annual UCL Spices and Medicine Symposium. 

  • Title: "Cannabis: from a forgotten medicinal plant to new prescription cannabinoid medicines"
  • Invited Speaker: Benjamin J. Whalley, Director of Research, GW Pharmaceuticals Ltd, UK and Visiting Professor of Neuropharmacology, Reading School of Pharmacy, University of Reading, UK


Historically, many anecdotal claims have been made for the use of cannabis in the treatment of a variety of diseases, including convulsive disorders such as epilepsy (Rosenberg et al, 2016). The behavioural pharmacology of the principal psychoactive component derived from cannabis, D9-tettrahydrocannabinol, in preclinical animal models and human epilepsies remains conflicted (Whalley, 2013). However, by virtue of its lack of affinity for cannabinoid receptors, the similarly abundant plant-derived cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD) is more amenable to study. This presentation will summarise the findings from a programme of preclinical research of CBD in well-established, in vitro and in vivo, animal models of seizure initiated by GW in partnership with preclinical epilepsy specialists to demonstrate a broad, well tolerated and reproducible anticonvulsant profile. These findings led to the initiation of further partnerships between GW and leading paediatric and adult epilepsy clinicians to provide CBD (formulated as Epidiolex®) through an FDA authorised, Expanded Access Programme (EAP). On the basis of initial open-label data from the EAP, GW initiated the GWPCARE Phase III clinical trial programme to assess CBD's safety and efficacy for the treatment of seizures associated with childhood onset epilepsy disorders that are not adequately controlled with current antiepileptic drugs (AEDs). The GWPCARE Phase III clinical trial programme includes six double-blind, placebo controlled studies evaluating the safety and efficacy of Epidiolex® as adjunctive therapy across four epilepsy indications. Here, data describing the preclinical evidence base for CBD's non-clinical efficacy and underlying molecular mechanism, plus summary safety and efficacy results of Epidiolex® in the four Phase III trials to have thus far completed (GWPCARE1 & GWPCARE2: Dravet syndrome (DS); GWPCARE3 & GWPCARE4: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS)) will be presented.

GWPCARE studies were funded by GW Research, Ltd.

Rosenberg EC, Patra PH, Whalley BJ (2016) Therapeutic effects of cannabinoids in animal models of seizures, epilepsy, epileptogenesis, and epilepsy-related neuroprotection Epilepsy Behav. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.yebeh.2016.11.006

Whalley BJ (2013) Cannabis sativa L. Effects on Seizures and Epilepsy in American Herbal Pharmacopeia Ed R. Upton

Professor Benjamin J. Whalley - Biography

Benjamin J. Whalley is Director of Research with GW Pharmaceuticals Ltd, a Visiting Professor of Neuropharmacology at the Reading School of Pharmacy, and an Associate of the Institute of Health Sciences. He has practised as a pharmacist since 1993 and undertook his PhD in Neuroscience at the Department of Pharmacology at the London School of Pharmacy prior to being appointed as a lecturer at the Reading School of Pharmacy in 2005. He was a member of the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs from 2014-2018. During his academic career, he successfully supervised 16 PhD students to completion and won >£6.5M of competitive grant funding. In 2017, he joined GW Pharmaceuticals Ltd as Director of Research to play a leading role in the company's development of new cannabis-derived medicines. Professor Whalley's expertise lies in translational neuropharmacology in epilepsy and related central nervous system diseases, with a particular focus on non-clinical electrophysiology, molecular and behavioural pharmacology.