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

Former city manager George Harvie to run for Delta mayor

Harvie’s Achieving for Delta salte includes former fire chief Dan Copeland

UPDATE: Surrey RCMP release sketch of ‘suspicious person’ who approached child outside school

Surrey RCMP describe the suspect as South Asian, in his 40s or younger, with a beard and a blue turban

International swimming events about to make a splash in Surrey

Espoir Canadian Championships and FINA Artistic Swimming World Series to be held at Surrey Sport and Leisure Complex

Fire in South Surrey Tuesday evening

It happened near King George Boulevard and 27B Avenue

Surrey’s Alex Sangha receives Meritorious Service Medal

Sangha recognized for founding Sher Vancouver, a not-for-profit society for LGBTQ South Asians

VIDEO: Morgan Freeman to voice announcements on SkyTrain, buses

TransLink unveils new credit card feature ahead of busy tourist season

Barclay Parneta new Giants GM

Becomes third General Manager in the history of the franchise

5 to start your day

Mounties cleared in shooting man with toy gun, woman sexually assaulted in Surrey and more

PNE’s Summer Night Concerts by Village People, Lauper, Goo Goo Dolls, more

Mostly retro sounds at this year’s fair in Vancouver, starting Aug. 18

Notley to skip western premiers meeting today, but slams leader who’s there

Notley told reporters that B.C. Premier John Horgan is trying to shut down the Trans Mountain pipeline

No suitors emerge for pipeline project stake as Kinder Morgan deadline looms

Analysts and observers remain perplexed by Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s comment last week that “plenty of investors would be interested in taking on this project”.

Energy wells plugged as Hawaii’s volcano sends lava nearby

A spike in gas levels could prompt a mass evacuation in Hawaii

Trump seethes over Russia probe, calls for end to ‘SPYGATE’

“SPYGATE could be one of the biggest political scandals in history!” Trump said on Twitter

Grads receive BC Transit passes

BC Transit provides passes to graduating students in more than 50 communities

Most Read