Pubdate: Mon, 04 Apr 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Catherine Jacobson
Note: Catherine Jacobson is director of clinical research at Tilray.
Page: A8


Over the last two years, medical cannabis has exploded onto the 
international radar. Canada's adoption of marijuana for medical 
purposes regulations ( MMPR) and creation of a legal, medical 
cannabis industry is at the forefront of a complex global discussion.

Canada's regulatory shift echoes change happening around the world. 
Most Americans live in states where some form of medical cannabis is 
legal, and the list of countries with medical cannabis programs 
continues to grow. While encouraging, this progress is just the 
beginning. The task for regulators, scientists and the licensed 
producers of medical cannabis is to ensure patients can take full 
advantage of these new systems, and that healthcare providers have 
the information they need to safely prescribe cannabis preparations.

These seismic global shifts in perception and policy have a deeply 
personal significance for me. As a scientist and director of clinical 
research at Tilray, one of Canada's largest producers of medical 
cannabis, I welcome policies that open the doors for ground-breaking 
and potentially life-saving research studying cannabis, and its 
component cannabinoids, as a treatment for a long list of 
debilitating ailments affecting people worldwide.

As the parent of a child living with a severe form of epilepsy that 
does not respond to available treatments, I applaud a visionary 
approach to research that unshackles the medical community and allows 
it to explore fully the potential therapeutic value, as well as the 
risks, of cannabinoids in areas such as treatment-resistant epilepsy. 
Solid scientific data supporting anticonvulsant properties of one 
cannabinoid, cannabidiol ( CBD), have been in the public domain since 
the 1970s. Testing this potential therapy in clinical trials has been 
impossible until the recent change in federal rules governing the 
production of cannabis extractions. In August 2015, producers 
licensed under the federal MMPR were granted the ability to produce 
extractions of raw cannabis plants. This change allows the production 
of preparations with precisely defined chemical composition - 
preparations that can be tested in the clinical setting.

The MMPR model now offers the medical research community an 
unprecedented opportunity to design and produce methodologically 
sound clinical research protocols that provide interpretable data. 
When thoughtful policies are put in place that finally allow 
meaningful scientific progress, we can design a powerful road map for 
the global future of medical cannabis and its impact on the 
health-care system. Although programs vary by jurisdiction and 
experiences vary by patient, there are steps we can take to improve 
the understanding and use of medical cannabis.

First, doctors need information. They need credible, reproducible, 
evidence-based safety and efficacy data. Too few physicians feel 
comfortable discussing cannabis with patients. When I approached 
doctors to learn more about whether CBD might be appropriate for my 
son, I was surprised that no one knew much about medical cannabis, 
let alone cannabidiol. The scientific community must equip all 
physicians with the evidence they need to shake off tired stigmas and 
serve as an informed, confident resource for patients.

Second, we need to diversify the forms of available cannabis. Some 
patients are either unable, or prefer not, to vaporize or smoke raw 
cannabis. Cannabis oils and extracts have become increasingly popular 
because they can be taken in many familiar and convenient forms like 
liquid capsules, drops and oral sprays. These formulations also offer 
both physicians and patients more precise control over dosage.

Third, the medical and research communities need to leverage this 
new-found ability to control dosage to develop safety information and 
dosage guidelines for medical cannabis, as we would for any other 
pharmaceutical. Clinical trials are underway around the world that 
will document safety, tolerability and efficacy in specific patient 
populations; safe-dose and titration schedules; potential adverse 
events; and drug-on-drug interactions. This critical step allows 
researchers to either confirm or disprove anecdotal reports of the 
efficacy of cannabinoids for various conditions.

This is an exciting time for medical cannabis research and policy. As 
stewards of a new political era and pioneers in medical cannabis 
research, we can only serve the global patient community when we 
demand and deliver the kind of exacting scientific rigour that 
demonstrates an unfailing commitment to the patients we hope to help. 
After all, for them, as for me, the answers are deeply personal.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom