Pubdate: Tue, 13 Mar 2018
Source: Winnipeg Sun (CN MB)
Copyright: 2018 Canoe Limited Partnership
Author: Joe Oliver
Page: 11


This summer, millennials, their anxious parents and users from
Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to Bay Street will get what they long
believed was their right - the opportunity to toke up legally.

That will be a seminal societal event (pun intended). However, what is
attracting less attention than it should are breakthrough discoveries
about how non-psychoactive cannabis extracts can alleviate suffering
and treat diseases that afflict hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

Legalization of a substance for recreational purposes and medical
studies should be unrelated issues. But since they are based on the
same plant, legal prohibitions and social stigma have held back
research, thereby prolonging the suffering of patients and costing

Thankfully, we are on the cusp of exploiting a tragically missed
opportunity because scientists, clinicians and physicians are finally
liberated to pursue and implement their studies and are receiving the
needed financial support.

As the song goes, now is when everything old is new again. The first
use of cannabis as a medicine dates back to 4,000 BC in China. Almost
6,000 years later in the 19th century marijuana was common in
pharmaceuticals as a remedy for pain, insomnia and headaches. But
early in the 20th-century prohibition set in and the plant came to be
viewed as a threat to certain economic interests, including the
tobacco industry, and condemned as a devil weed that would unravel
social cohesion.

In spite of widespread fear and hostility, over 50 years ago Professor
Raphael Mechoulam at Hebrew University in Jerusalem was the first to
isolate THC, the principal psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. In
1996, Israel began its national medical marijuana program, the first
in the world.

However, funding was hard to come by and scientists in most countries
were intimidated or legally prohibited from experimenting with the
plant's medical potential. So for decades progress did not match the
promising research and preliminary clinical results. Then attitudes
started to change.

Increasingly, cannabis is recognized for its positive medical
attributes in the treatment of glaucoma, epilepsy, depression,
Alzheimer's, arteriosclerosis, spasms, rheumatoid arthritis,
inflammatory bowel diseases and colon cancer, among other illnesses.
To cite just one example of how many people are affected, there are
over 230,000 Canadian sufferers of Crohn's and Colitis and five
million worldwide.

Cannabis is also widely considered as a viable substitute for
opioid-based painkillers consumed by more than six million Canadians
and for drugs that can cause serious side effects, including
addiction. Marijuana has also long been used to relieve anxiety and to
make chemotherapy more tolerable.

For these reasons, cannabis use is increasing dramatically. In the
fall of 2015, 30,000 Canadians had prescriptions for medical purposes.

Next year it could reach half a million. Not only stoners are coming
out of the grass closet.

Legalization and decriminalization for both medical and recreational
purposes are proceeding on a global scale. Twenty-nine countries
permit medical cannabis, including Canada since 2001. But in the U.S.
federal law criminalizes its growth, although the majority of states
allow it for medical use. This conflicted and confusing American
approach provides Canada an opportunity to become a world leader in
the field.

Indeed, last year Canadian capital markets raised over half of all
public funding (almost $1.6 billion U.S.) for global cannabis
companies. Twenty-nine Canadian public companies are valued at about
$30 billion in market capitalization. The strong investor demand for
marijuana companies provides opportunities to raise significant
capital for medical research and clinical trials.

We can be proud that Canada is at the frontier of an exciting new era
of medical innovation that is benefiting people here and around the

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Joe Oliver is the former minister of finance and is the Chairman of 
PlantExt, a private Israeli/Canadian company devoted to developing and 
commercializing cannabis extracts in the treatment of diseases.
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MAP posted-by: Matt