It could be the world’s most important marijuana scientific trial, and it’s starting now. By 2021, Australian researchers will have new answers to lingering questions surrounding medical marijuana’s efficacy for cancer patients.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here’s a legal international trade in high-grade marijuana going on right now. In order to participate, you need to be a researcher. And in order to get any of this coveted cannabis, you must be a very, very sick person.
Very sick, and also very lucky.
Tilray, a Canadian pharmaceutical-grade marijuana firm, began shipping medicinal cannabis products to Australia in February. The company is testing two cannabis-derived medicines, one to treat childhood epilepsy, and another to solve chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in cancer patients.
According to the Illawara Mercury, the hometown newspaper for Wollongong Hospital — where 20 local cancer patients are participating — it’s a “world-first trial” for medical marijuana with international significance.
While the war on drugs has made researching marijuana’s positive effects on humans nearly impossible, cannabis has accepted value in treating certain medical conditions. In January, the American National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a comprehensive report in which it declared there was “conclusive” evidence that marijuana has therapeutic effects — including the prevention and treatment of “chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.”
However, much of the data supporting the medicinal value of cannabis comes from studies that don’t involve humans. There have been studies that demonstrated cannabis shrunk or destroyed tumors — a discovery first made by in 1974 by U.S. researchers (then suppressed) and replicated in a Spanish study in 2000.
Those studies all involved lab rats — not people. This is a recurring theme; the groundbreaking study released last week that suggested marijuana has a role in solving dementia was also conducted on rats.
National Health and Medical Research Council director, John Simes, told the Mercury that having a government-approved study that will investigate marijuana’s effect on humans is indeed a new thing.
“Due to the very limited evidence worldwide, it is not known whether cannabis products may be able to help these patients where other medications have not,” he said. “This study aims to provide a definitive answer to that question.’’
People are the sole focus in Tilray’s Australian study. Eighty cancer patients at seven hospitals in Australia will receive Tilray capsules that contain a mixture of CBD and THC. They’ll take a capsule the day before chemotherapy treatments, and then for a series of days afterwards to see if the medicine reduces nausea and vomiting.
The trial is set to run until 2021 and will involve 250 additional patients if the first round is successful.
Prof. Morteza Aghmesheh, an oncologist at a participating hospital, said there were many more interested trial participants than could be accommodated.
He said while there are pharmaceutical drugs designed to give cancer patients in chemotherapy an appetite, the drugs don’t work in about one-third of patients.
In Australia, the government is a willing partner in medical cannabis research — some $21 million nationwide has been invested in marijuana-related research, according to Brad Hazzard, the health minister of Australian state New South Wales.
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