Pubdate: Mon, 30 Apr 2018
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2018 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Sam Wood


Pennsylvania is gearing up to become a global center for cannabis
research. Yet for more than a decade, Philadelphia has been on the
forefront of investigations into the medicinal uses of marijuana.

Sara Jane Ward has built a reputation exploring marijuana's effects on
pain and addiction using animals at Temple University's Lewis Katz
School of Medicine.

Ward and her colleague Ronald Tuma, a professor of physiology and
neurosurgery, lead a team of 10 researchers at Temple's Center for
Substance Abuse in North Philadelphia.

Ward and Tuma conduct well-regarded research on cannabinoids, the
molecular compounds produced by the marijuana plant. THC, the best
known of the more than 100 compounds, is the psychoactive chemical
that induces the feeling of being high. CBD, the second-most prevalent
cannabinoid, is not psychoactive but has been shown to reduce
inflammation and may have dozens of other health applications.

The lab recently investigated the so-called entourage effect, the
theory that when multiple cannabinoids are administered together, the
therapeutic effects are magnified.

"We found that, yeah, there was a 10-fold increase in how potent the
drugs were when we gave them together," Ward said of the study funded
by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "That was really shocking."

Ward and Tuma are beginning to explore the use of cannabinoids to
treat chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of brain injuries
suffered by athletes -- football players in particular -- after
repeated head trauma.

Ward will be a featured panelist Tuesday, May 1, during the second day
of the CannabisLearn Conference and Expo at the Convention Center.
She'll also lead a program of lightning talks on Wednesday focusing on
cannabis research, technology, and its commercial applications.

The Inquirer spoke with Ward last week. This interview has been edited
for length and clarity.

What is your lab working on now?

One Temple-funded project is exploring cannabinoids and traumatic
brain injury, something that has been pushed by the athletes for a
long time. What's been missing is the basic scientific research. We'll
use several brain-injury models to see which might be best treated by
different cannabis-based medicines.

We've made the most headway on a chemotherapy-induced pain project,
and have seen very exciting results in our animal model. Clinical
trials have begun in Canada based on these results.

Do you ever work on human subjects?

No. I don't have the expertise to do human studies.

What are the advantages to doing cannabinoid research with

I have notably fewer challenges as an animal researcher than folks who
are doing human studies.

Ron Tuma, Sara Jane Ward and Honbo Li in a microscopy room at Temple
Medical School, Friday April 27, 2018.

We want to build on the research we did with THC and CBD and we're
also looking at terpenes [marijuana's fragrant oils] and other minor
cannabinoids in the plant. Animal models let us do that in a very
systematic way.

You need a sample size of eight to 10 individuals in each group to
test each compound alone. In a year, for $250,000, I can tell you
which cannabinoids do what alone and which in combination are
effective. In a human study, that would take 10 years and thousands of

The closest labs that do human work right now are at Columbia and
Johns Hopkins. I'm looking forward to Temple becoming involved with
clinical studies under Pennsylvania's research program. That's what
we'll be trying to figure out at this CannabisLearn conference: What
we can do in our medical schools with our patient populations, what
are our research options, and what do we need to navigate the legal
space to do the best work we can do within the medical guidelines?

How common are cannabinoid investigations in the U.S.?

There are many. Temple is one of the top research institutes in the
country, and we have a reputation for getting the top researchers in
the field. There are about 10 labs on the East Coast, but many may
have only one or two researchers doing the work. Temple and Virginia
Commonwealth University have the concentrations of talent, but work is
spread across the country and around the world.

Commercial CBD products for dogs and cats already are for sale in
Pennsylvania. What are your thoughts on them?

Because they aren't federally regulated products, we don't know what's
in them. I think cannabis-based medicines for companion animals is a
very exciting idea. It seems like a no-brainer, and research is going
to go in that direction. It doesn't make sense to make the leap from
rat to human and not think of our companion animals. But if you're not
getting product from a regulated state dispensary, it's hard to have
faith in it.
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MAP posted-by: Matt