Big pharma snub, lack of placebo to blame for lack of medical pot research: experts

Despite a growing number of Canadians turning to medical cannabis

A disinterested pharmaceutical industry and the conundrum of finding a convincing placebo are just two reasons experts say there has been little quality research into medicinal marijuana.

A growing number of Canadians are turning to medical cannabis despite questions about its risks and effectiveness as a health product.

Marijuana’s unconventional journey onto the medical market puts it at odds with more mainstream medications, which typically undergo years of costly scrutiny before being approved for use, said Mark Ware, a pain researcher at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal.

Ware said pharmaceutical companies are willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for clinical trials because once a drug is approved they have a window of time to sell it exclusively.

“When you think about medications that have been given approval to be sold in pharmacies, that’s where most if not all of our medications come from,” he said.

“That model simply does not hold for much of the classical herbal cannabis research, where you’re looking for basic claims of efficacy and safety, but not trying to make a formal claim for a product that is going to be patented.”

READ: Marijuana rules will be ‘a work in progress’

Ware, who also served as vice-chair on the federal government’s task force on legalizing cannabis, said competition among licensed marijuana producers is leading some of them to funnel money toward research in an effort to differentiate their brand from others.

But Dr. Mike Allan, a professor of family medicine at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said there are few benefits for producers to conduct the research.

“It’s already at market so there’s really no incentive, or virtually no incentive, for licensed producers to take the money they’re generating from the sale of these products and reinvest it in research,” Allan said.

While a positive outcome might not have much of an effect on the industry’s bottom line, a negative outcome could seriously harm profits, he added.

Data from Health Canada show the number of clients registered with licensed medicinal cannabis producers jumped between June 2016 and June 2017, from 75,166 to more than 200,000. Registrations more than tripled in each of the two previous years.

University of Saskatchewan professor, Robert Laprairie, said the absence of the pharmaceutical industry means medical marijuana research is being done for the benefit of the patient.

“We’re in a unique place because a lot of large pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to fund these studies where they don’t necessarily see the incentive for something that they aren’t able to patent,” said Laprairie, who conducts cannabinoid research at the university.

WATCH: Province, Feds see lots of work ahead of marijuana legalization

Laprairie said he has seen a heavy push in recent months from academics, patients and licensed producers for more medical cannabis research.

But Dr. Meldon Kahan of the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, said this kind of research, sponsored by licensed producers, is still problematic.

“You can design a short-term study with marijuana, or for that matter, with alcohol or opiates, and say, ‘Look, we gave people a bunch of alcohol over a three-day period or one week or one month and they seem to feel better. It helped their anxiety.’ But that doesn’t mean it’s a good medication,” he said.

Kahan said there does appear to be some evidence that cannabidiol, a compound in marijuana, does have some medical benefits, including pain relief, but more study is needed.

Ware said another dilemma in conducting research on medical marijuana is the absence of a plausible placebo, especially because study participants often have experience using cannabis and recognize if they have been placed in the study or control group.

“Access to a credible placebo may seem like an odd thing to have as a challenge,” Ware said.

“But bear in mind that many of these studies are placebo-controlled, so you need a drug which is a credible placebo — looks and smells and for all intents and purposes pretends it is cannabis when in fact it does not have the active ingredient you are testing.”

Allan cited a study that found between 85 and 90 per cent of nurses could tell when patients were on pills derived from cannabis.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Farnworth says Surrey RCMP boss’s statement on budget should be taken ‘seriously’

Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald warned Surrey’s budget will have “detrimental effect” on policing

North Delta crime beat, week of Nov. 24

A selection of property crimes submitted weekly by the Delta Police Department

Struggles of South Asian gays and lesbians documented in new film

‘Taboo topic’ explored in Sher Vancouver-backed ‘Emergence’ doc movie, due out next year

Police looking for ‘high risk’ missing man last seen at Surrey Memorial Hospital

Delta Police spokeswoman Cris Leykauf says Adam Summers is deemed a high risk due to medical reasons

New date set for suspects in South Surrey Hells Angel murder

Court heard that both sides are prepared to set preliminary hearing date

VIDEO: Rockslide closes Highway 93 in Fairmont Hot Springs

Geotechnical team called in to do an assessment after rocks fell from hoodoos

Illicit drug deaths down, but B.C. coroner says thousands still overdose

Chief coroner Life Lapointe says province’s drug supply remains unpredictable

One of B.C’s last surviving strip clubs baring all again for Christmas charity

25th annual event is Sunday and raises money for the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Christmas Hamper Society.

Province ‘reinforcing’ new rules for party buses as holiday season approaches

Ministry reminds the public that it’s against the law to consume alcohol, cannabis inside a vehicle

University of Victoria researchers develop industry-changing ‘hyper-glue’

‘Cross-linking’ technology already playing a role in performance body armour

Threats to the Fraser River at ‘new zenith,’ says river conservationist

The ‘Heart of the Fraser’ should be deemed ecologically significant according to ORC statement

What’s happening: week of Dec. 5

Events and community listings for North Delta

Grandparents raising children: Shuswap grandma sees need for support

Peer group formed for those who have unexpectedly taken on the role of parenting

Final appeal rejected for man convicted in deaths of missing Alberta seniors

Lyle and Marie McCann were in their 70s when they left their home in St. Albert in 2010 and vanished

Most Read