Pubdate: Tue, 09 May 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: Dale Carruthers
Page: A2


A Western professor says it's easier to do heroin research than his
marijuana work

Steven Laviolette is trying to score some pot, but not just any
marijuana will do.

The Western University neuroscientist is sourcing pure
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component in cannabis
that gives users the euphoric high feeling.

Unlike a gram of marijuana that can be bought for $10 on the street or
at an illegal dispensary, the same amount of pure THC costs more than
$2,000 and is nearly impossible to find in Canada, said Laviolette,
who researches marijuana's effect on the brain.

The costly substance can't even be bought from any of the country's 41
government-approved pot producers, he added.

"It's a lot easier to do heroin research than to do cannabinoid
research in terms of acquiring the drugs," Laviolette said, using the
term for the chemical compounds found in pot plants.

Now he's hopeful the Liberal government's recent tabling of
legislation to legalize and regulate weed for recreational use will
make researching the drug easier for scientists.

"It's a really exciting time to be doing this type of research," said
Laviolette, an associate professor at Western's Schulich School of
Medicine & Dentistry.

Many other marijuana researchers - Laviolette estimates there are
fewer than 20 in Canada - use synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the
effects of the compounds found in cannabis.

Laviolette says it's ironic that he has to order his THC from the
United States despite the marijuana's widespread medicinal use in
Canada and the government's plan to end its nearly century-long
prohibition by July 2018.

In a cramped fourth-floor lab in Western's medical sciences building,
Laviolette and his research team use rats to study marijuana's effects
on the brain. Last year, Laviolette published a paper that found
adolescent rodents given THC were socially withdrawn and had increased
anxiety, elevated levels of dopamine and an inability to filter out
unnecessary information - all factors in schizophrenia.

Now he's researching marijuana's effect on mood disorders, as well as
exploring the potential benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), the therapeutic
cannabis compound without any psychoactive properties.

Laviolette first started researching cannabis 13 years ago at the
University of Pittsburgh, using synthetic cannabinoids, before coming
to Western in 2006.

With minimal support from the federal government for his line of
research, Laviolette has forged a four-year partnership with a private

The Canadian Medical Association, a national advocacy group for
physicians, doesn't support the use of pot for clinical purposes,
citing the lack of scientific evidence: ". . . There is insufficient
evidence on clinical risks and benefits, including the proper dosage
of marijuana to be used and on the potential interactions between this
drug and other medications," the organization says on its website.

"The CMA will continue to urge that Health Canada support development
of rigorous research on the effects, both positive and adverse, that
the use of marijuana for medical purposes will have."

Despite the challenges, Laviolette says Canada punches above its
weight when it comes to cannabis research.

"Canada is uniquely positioned because we do have this foundation of
it being a medical product. That gives us a head start in terms of the
(research and development) side of thing," he said.

"So I think Canada really does have the potential to step up and
become a global leader in the cannabinoid space."
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MAP posted-by: Matt