Nanaimo-based cannabis producer partners with UBC on marijuana study

NANAIMO – Research will examine medical benefits for war veterans, first responders and sexual assault survivors suffering from PTSD.

Nanaimo-based medical cannabis producer Tilray has partnered with the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Canada’s first clinical trial to test the effectiveness of marijuana in treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study, still waiting for approval from Health Canada, will be one of the world’s first large-scale clinical trials to evaluate cannabis for treating a mental health disorder.

Existing studies of marijuana’s effect on PTSD have produced anecdotal and observational data, but no information is available from science-based clinical trials. Scientifically generated results could provide physicians with data to make decisions about prescribing cannabis for PTSD patients.

Philippe Lucas, vice-president for patient research and services at Tilray, said a similar study in the U.S. is waiting final approval and funding, but results from both research programs should compliment one another.

The UBC study will test the safety and effectiveness of various medical marijuana strain combinations, specifically strains with high THC content versus others with high CBD, a non-psychoactive component of the plant that shares many of THC’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, to manage treatment-resistant PTSD symptoms, such as flashbacks, anxiety, depression, anger, irritability and sleep and eating disorders affecting emergency first responders, assault victims and combat veterans.

“We’re trying to figure out which particular strains or cannabis preparation are going to be most effective,” Lucas said.

He said the company currently has 150 PTSD clients and Veterans Affairs Canada covers costs for medical marijuana prescriptions for veterans and first responders with injuries incurred in their work.

Forty men and women, including combat veterans, first responders and sexual assault victims, will be selected for the study, scheduled to start in the summer of 2015 and conclude in late 2016.

Study principle investigator, Zach Walsh, clinical psychologist and co-director of the UBC Centre for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law at the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, said with current treatments, such as antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy, some patients continue to struggle with PTSD symptoms or suffer prescription side effects. The medical system is playing catch-up with what Walsh said has been a patient-driven move toward finding alternative forms of relief which included self-medicating with marijuana.

“What we want to see is, how does cannabis stack up, in terms of benefits in symptom reduction, and costs in terms of side effects,” Walsh said. “It’s not a question of, ‘How does it work on its own?’ It’s ‘How does it work compared to other things that people are already doing?’”

Tilray, the project sponsor, will contribute coordination support and about $30,000 to $50,0000 worth of products for the $350,000 project.