Medical & Dental

Scientists develop 3D printed CBD pills

A Swedish and Greek research team has created an algorithm that enables customized 3D printed cannabidiol (CBD) tablets.

Using the scientists’ novel setup, it’s possible to create ‘orodispersible films,’ or melting capsules, with patient-optimized dimensions, dosages, and drug-releasing properties. The approach has already proven ideal for desktop 3D printing CBD pills, and in the future, the team believes that it could enable tailored medicines to be produced locally at hospitals, pharmacies, or even patients’ homes.  

“One in seven American citizens use CBD,” write the researchers, “These products are sold freely in U.S. dispensaries, and this uncontrolled distribution facilitates abuse. Personalization of the drug product is a potential measure to inhibit CBD abuse, as both the dose and the intended administration route, will be customized for each patient.”

A bowl of cannabis seeds and a bottle of CBD oil.
The scientists’ 3D printing algorithm could eventually allow desktop 3D printer users to create customized CBD tablets at home. Photo via Pixabay.

3D printing home-made drugs 

As desktop 3D printers continue to become more easily accessible, the number of products it’s possible to create with them is rising exponentially. These largely FFF-based systems hold particular potential when it comes to fabricating customized drugs, which can be programmed to target a patient’s unique age, size, diet, or living requirements. 

Depending on the severity of an individual’s condition, personalized medicines can even be vital to their survival chances, making tailorable on-demand production highly-desirable. Meanwhile, in other less severe cases, patients in the U.K. and U.S. are increasingly adopting CBD products, which are marketed as relaxation remedies in low concentrations. 

However, lifesaving or not, these tablets are mass-manufactured, limiting their customization, and the cost of CBD in the U.K. can reach over £100 depending on the strength. In order to make distributed medical manufacturing more feasible for everyday users, the scientists have therefore developed an AI-driven algorithm, which automatically creates ready-to-print patient-specific drug designs. 

A breakdown of the researchers' CBD 3D printing algorithm
A breakdown of the researchers’ CBD 3D printing algorithm. Image via the International Journal of Pharmaceutics.

Automated CBD manufacturing 

Essentially, the researchers’ proof-of-concept algorithm uses simple mathematical functions to convert an individual’s weight and dosage requirements into a 3D model for a tailored tablet. As an added benefit, the software also provides users with an optimal parameter set for each filament, and generates a ‘scad’ file that’s compatible with most machines. 

Given the growing popularity of CBD, the scientists opted to test their algorithm by creating cannabis-loaded tablets using a MakerBot Replicator 2X 3D printer. The samples, measuring 0.1mm in height and containing either 2%, 4% or 6% of the CBD, proved to be dimensionally accurate, demonstrating the precision of the team’s AI model. 

Interestingly, the researchers subsequently found that the width of the tablets’ constituent material ‘rods,’ fluctuated every time the printer’s nozzle passed over unevenly filled layers. While this phenomenon led to the accumulation of extra feedstock, it didn’t affect the CBD composition of each tablet, but it potentially warrants further investigation. 

During the first ten minutes of testing, over 90% of the scientists’ CBD tablets were dissolved (pictured). Image via the International Journal of Pharmaceutics.

In later tests, the scientists evaluated the performance of their cannabis pills in-vitro, by exposing them to cell-laden dishes. Results showed that the structural features and concentration of each capsule affected its disintegration time and that within ten minutes, every single tablet had released over 90% of its stated dose.

Despite their success during initial tests, the researchers also acknowledged the need for a more detailed algorithm, which includes further parameters about a patients’ condition. Similarly, processing such personal information in a world where it’s increasingly prone to online theft, represents another complication for a future distributed manufacturing model.  

In light of these potential setbacks, the scientists believe that their approach only constitutes a first step towards personalized CBD medicines, but it could eventually help reduce abuse, and treat illnesses such as anxiety or Parkinson’s disease. 

“This approach is an alternative pathway to promote automation in the manufacturing of highly personalized medicines,” concluded the researchers. “We envisage that further pharmaceutical research and engineering solutions, will gradually shape and materialize the foreseen digital health environment.”

AM advances in clinical production 

Research into 3D printed tablets has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and yielded dosage-controlled devices for treating various different illnesses. 

Researchers from University College London, for instance, have 3D printed opioid tablets with alcohol-resistant and abuse-deterrent properties. Through their project, the team aims to combat the growing opioid abuse health crisis caused by the over-prescription of high-strength painkillers. 

In a similar vein, Pakistani scientists have developed additive manufactured antibiotics, which are designed to improve clinical outcomes for severely ill patients. By tweaking the parameters of their 3D printer, the researchers were able to precisely control the dosage levels of their drug delivery devices. 

On a more commercial level, pharmaceutical specialist FabRx markets its M3DIMAKER 3D printer, which is specifically designed to manufacture personalized tablets. The machine is not only capable of creating patient-specific dosage profiles, but producing ‘polypills,’ that combine multiple drugs into a single print. 

The scientists’ findings are detailed in their paper titled “Automated digital design for 3D-printed individualized therapies. ” The study was co-authored by Georgios K. Eleftheriadis, Efthymios Kantarelis, Paraskevi Kyriaki Monou, Eleftherios G. Andriotis, Nikolaos Bouropoulos, Emmanouil K. Tzimtzimis, Dimitrios Tzetzis, Jukka Rantanen and Dimitrios G. Fatouros.

During the project, the team were based at multiple sites, including the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, International Hellenic University, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, University of Patras, University of Copenhagen and ICEHT.

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Featured image shows some cannabis seeds alongside a bottle of CBD oil. Photo via Pixabay.