According to the Canadian government, nearly 3.6 million people suffer from neurological conditions including diseases, disorders, and injuries. New research and treatments are constantly being developed to combat these debilitating conditions.  

One method of treatment being researched includes using cannabis as a medicine for a variety of neurological illnesses such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.  

Canada was one of the first countries in the world to introduce a medical cannabis access program in 2001. But the real explosion of the plant only occurred in 2018 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau legalized cannabis for recreational use. 

There are more than 550 chemical compounds in cannabis, including the more well-known compounds tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the chemical responsible for the intoxicating effects of cannabis which people describe as ‘being high.’  

CBD is non-intoxicating and won’t make you feel high. It can even help counteract the effects of THC.

While ground-breaking research has been conducted on medical cannabis in Israel since the 1960’s, it’s only since the legalization of cannabis in some US states and Canada that the doors opened for North American scientists to conduct research on the plant.

The medical community is eager to understand if cannabis can indeed be looked to as a reliable and consistent medicine, what conditions it can treat, and how the different varieties of cannabis might impact for the better or worse.  

Struggling to Begin  

Since legalization, many variables have been considered with regards to research. However, whether from the government or another entity, obstacles can become roadblocks to thorough research. 

David Greb, director of health products and channels for Canopy Growth graduated with a Bachelor of Science in biomedical toxicology. He spoke with me about how getting consensus with respect to the proven therapeutic impact of cannabis isn’t a linear path. 

“There are certain ways of understanding it; for certain conditions like epilepsy, cannabis has been FDA approved as a valuative medicine. Epidiolex went through all proper channels and clinical trials and is one such example.”  

The word valuative means something along the lines of being evaluated, studied. The FDA does not approve something for evaluation or study, they simply take the submitted data and will or will not grant approval. 

Greb pointed to the fact that ”Five or six years ago, the National Academy of Sciences, which is a national leader, found that the current evidence was substantial enough to conclude that cannabis could be used for chronic pain in adults and improving muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis.”  

It’s important to point out that Influence Watch, a US based national watchdog points out that The National Academy of Sciences is a membership society that hosts programs and publishes scientific studies in the U.S. While it was established as a congressional charter dating back to 1863, and operates as a non-profit independent entity advising the federal government, the NAS has been involved in its share of controversy for its left-of-center leanings and publishing, with numerous conflict-of-interest accusations claims made regarding their studies. The NAS is also funded by some of the largest left-of-center foundations.    

Greb then went on to explain that there are, however, barriers preventing medical cannabis from being developed.  

One of the barriers is that cannabis doesn’t follow the traditional process of drug development. Pharmaceutical development requires patents and controlled studies, which are not only time-consuming but also very expensive.

“Plants are a bit more difficult because they carry more variables and also, plant-based medicines can’t be patented which makes investing large amounts of money on research and development impossible. The current system just goes against what is necessary for further progression,” explained Greb.

Investors are reluctant to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into something that is not owned by a single entity or person. This is what also prevents comprehensive studies from being funded for many of the naturopathic supplements that to this day still lack the type of unbiased, scientific studies to support their effectiveness. 

Greb’s words were also echoed by another expert in this field, Sabrina Ramkellawan. Ramkellawan is the co-founder of Axial Bridge, a company that bills itself as a “Global Clinical Trial Management and Life Sciences Advisory Firm.

Ramkellewan began as a nurse where she’s worked in a variety of settings in public hospitals and private clinics. However, most of her career has been focussed on clinical research.  

She’s also worked for pharma companies, understanding how drugs are made, which led her to the cannabis industry where she’s overseen cannabis clinical trials and launched cannabis clinics.

“It depends on how we define the word “proven”. For a drug to be approved by Health Canada or the FDA, they would have to go through a very long process that begins with animal research, phases one through three, and lots of clinical trials.  

Some types of cannabinoids have already gone through that process and have been proven. The issue is that for plant-based medicine, it’s very difficult to have intellectual property and patents” echoed Ramkellawan. 

Cannabis Science in Practice 

People like Greb and Ramkellawan have dedicated their careers to the scientific study of cannabis and how it can be used to help patients. 

“Helping others and getting over those barriers is the reason we started AxialBridge. We help clients in a variety of ways such as helping them patent the method of development or connect them to formulation partners.”  

Ramkellawan went on to explain that cannabis functions differently depending on the person; there is no one size fits all. She added that while research is still scant, some studies on cannabis for PTSD treatment have uncovered that some people might require higher or lower levels of CBD and THC.  

Studies such as this help medical practitioners who support the use of cannabis understand how to prescribe the right dosage and frequency tailored to the individual.  

Certain segments of the Canadian population such as veterans advocate for the use of medical cannabis for PTSD.  

“With some very strong lobbying from Veterans Affairs Canada, 18,000 veterans who suffer from PTSD and other complex neurological conditions now have the opportunity to receive fully reimbursed cannabis,” Greb stated.   

Scientific research is an ever-changing world with new research and clinical trials debunking the old to gain better understanding in selected topics.  

However, very rarely do scientific discoveries follow a linear path and medical cannabis is no exception.  

Cannabis continues to be prescribed by a select cohort of Canadian physicians and ancillary health practitioners who are supporters of their therapeutic use. They also tend to be well compensated for their support.

Cannabis is also now freely available for those who wish to “self-prescribe” through the recreational channels of distribution. If you are looking to cannabis for therapeutic benefit, do your own research and find a medical practitioner that will monitor dosages, effect and any interactions with other drugs you may be taking.

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