While the progress with legal medical and recreational marijuana in the United States continues to make headlines around the world, Canada has been quietly establishing itself as a world leader in research opportunities as one of only 3 countries in the world with a carefully-monitored, national medical marijuana program.
Unlike the United States, where cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug ("no accepted medical use") and research permits are notoriously difficult to obtain, medical cannabis is already legal and regulated in Canada at the Federal level. Doctors, Universities and newly-emerging Licensed Producers have a rather unique opportunity right now in Canada that only a few other countries in the world have; direct, legal, regulated access to whole-plant cannabis for research purposes.
In fact, in the process of building the new MMPR program, in addition to utilizing Canadian talent and research, the government looked to the two other countries with well-established medical marijuana programs (the Netherlands and Israel) which has only helped bolster Canada's position as a global medical cannabis leader.
Bedrocan BV has been the official supplier for patients and researchers in the Netherlands for 13 years (Bedrocan also supplies many other European countries) and MedReleaf has a research partnership with Tikun Olam, a medical marijuana company licensed by the Israel Ministry of Health since 2007. Both of these relationships bring decades of collective experience to the Canadian market.
For those who use and seek to use cannabis for medical purposes, this means more opportunity to better inform the opinions of the various colleges of Physicians in Canada and the doctors they represent who remain uncertain of how to prescribe the plant and monitor its usage.
"The safety standards all LPs are required to meet make Canadian Medical Cannabis the cleanest you’ll find anywhere. Many American Physicians were quite vocal about their support for how Canada is doing it right, and although some states have access, the physicians and nurses I spoke to from Washington said they were still quite weary of the contaminants that are found in the product that is grown for their patients." ~Chris Murray, Tweed Inc.
Neil Closner, the CEO of Ontario-based MedReleaf see his company's relationship with this research as highly beneficial for Canadian patients.
"Together with Tikun Olam we have over 20 clinical investigations underway across a variety of health ailments and areas. Because the exclusive varieties that we offer have been utilized and studied in patients for many years, with thousands of satisfied patients, we are better able to identify which varieties are best suited for a number of different ailments and this helps to ensure more cost effective and more successful research trials. We have a number of additional research initiatives in the planning stages that will hopefully lead to a deeper understanding of the benefits of cannabis."
This unique position Canada finds itself in is readily apparent to the various Canadian producers who are frequently attending the many medical conferences across the country.
Chris Murray, Director of Business and Medical Development at Tweed Inc, who attended the Palliative Care Congress in Ontario last month said International visitors, especially Americans often express envy at the pharmaceutical-grade standards and research possibilities presented by the MMPR.
"Canada is unquestionably the world leader in terms of a regulated framework, and the title for research and investigation should soon follow.
The safety standards all LPs are required to meet make Canadian Medical Cannabis the cleanest you’ll find anywhere. Many American Physicians were quite vocal about their support for how Canada is doing it right, and although some states have access, the physicians and nurses I spoke to from Washington said they were still quite weary of the contaminants that are found in the product that is grown for their patients."
Highlighting these new opportunities. it's fitting that another long-established company, this one with Canadian roots, CanniMed, has recently announced the first clinical trial registered with Health Canada after the transition to the new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR). The randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, proof-of-concept, crossover clinical trial will look at how various strains of vaporized cannabis can help adults with painful osteoarthritis of the knee.
The ability to produce consistent THC/CBD percentages and ratios presents an opportunity for research that simply often isn't otherwise possible, and the high standards that Licensed Producers under the MMPR are required to adhere to encourage this level consistent quality. When researchers can have access to long-term supplies of a range of cannabinoid profiles that will remain consistent over time, it adds to the depth and quality of the resulting research. The Canadian Research Society is also calling for more research into the opportunities presented by medical cannabis.
Adding to this level of in-depth opportunities, Bedrocan has stated they are the only Canadian company to develop placebo versions of its medicinal cannabis strains, for use in clinical studies. This would mean they can grow out their current strains without the signature cannabinoid profiles expressing compounds like THC and CBD and present them side-by side with their medically-potent cousins. Although Bedrocan and CanniMed are the only two Canadian companies currently growing 'pharmaceutical-grade' Cannabis, the MMPR encourages companies to build facilities that produce cannabis that will test at levels of cleanliness above-and beyond what your average consumer can find anywhere else in the world.
Research like this is important because, as we know, the medical community in Canada as a whole often remains nervous and perhaps under-informed when it comes to available research showing the various viable medical applications for cannabis. While many patients often have positive anecdotal stories to share, doctors want in-depth, peer-reviewed research if they are to go against the current pronouncements from Health Canada or their respective College of Physicians discouraging cannabis as an option. As more effort, time and money goes into this level of rigorous, scientifically-sound research, it will become harder for doctors to remain unsure about cannabis.
Many of us understand the amazing possibilities the cannabis plant brings, but as the body of research proving these possibilities grows, the more mainstream acceptance for and understanding of these possibilities will also grow. It's nice to know Canada is emerging on the forefront of that research.
Featured Image: Agrima Botanicals - in-house lab allows their staff as well as university partners to undertake research initiatives going forward.