On May 22nd, Health Canada approved the country’s first medical marijuana clinical trial. The study commissioned by Prairie Plant Systems – a licensed medical marijuana producer – will be a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial looking at the safety and efficacy of vaporized cannabis. It will incorporate several varieties of medical marijuana with varying degrees of the plant’s two most active cannabinoids: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Brent Zettl, President and CEO of Prairie Plant Systems, explained that the population of interest will consist of patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, the largest patient group registered in the former Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR) program.
The Arthritis Society has voiced its support of the study. There are currently 4.6 million Canadians suffering from arthritic pain who resort to anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications to manage their symptoms (Arthritis Alliance of Canada, 2011) . Despite the majority successfully doing so, there are cases where available medication is ineffective in relieving the pain and inflammation. Prairie Plants Systems is in the process of finalizing the details of the trials and will be announcing patient recruitment specifics in the coming weeks.
Health Canada remains firmly opposed to marijuana as a legitimate form of medication (Health Canada, 2014), regardless of the fact that medical research from other countries has proven its legitimacy and patients insist that it provides pain relief. The lack of clinical trials addressing the safety and side affects of marijuana for medical purposes has been a major factor contributing to physicians’ hesitance in prescribing it. Medical professionals, who are used to prescribing pharmaceuticals with set dosages, will finally be provided with the clinical data necessary for proper medical marijuana dosing.
A Supreme Court ruling in 2000 made medical marijuana accessible to Canadians suffering from many chronic and terminal illnesses, forcing Health Canada to distribute a substance it does not condone. What’s more, in April, the responsibility of deciding on patient eligibility was transferred from Health Canada officials to physicians despite attempts from the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) to resist the move. The CMA has told Health Canada on multiple occasions that prescribing dried marijuana would essentially promote smoking the drug.
Although Prairie Plant Systems is the first medical marijuana producer to launch such research in Canada, there are a dozen commercial medical pot producers across the country that could greatly benefit from this research, should marijuana be established as a credible medication among doctors.
Arthritis Alliance of Canada. (2011). The Impact of Arthritis in Canada: Today and Over the Next 30 Years. Retrieved from http://www.arthritisalliance.ca/images/PDF/eng/Initiatives/20111022_2200_impact_of_arthritis.pdf
Health Canada. (2014). Medical Use of Marijuana. Retrieved from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/marihuana/index-eng.php
Figure 1. White widow. [Photograph], by eggrole, 2010, Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/eggrole/4822581291/
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