The Montreal study, now in Phase 2, will try to determine if cannabis can be used as a less-dangerous substitute for opiate-based painkillers
By the time she decided to try cannabis pills, Joanne Fiorito was in dire straits. She’s struggled with multiple sclerosis for most of her life. Until recently, she thought the condition, which has forced her into an electric wheelchair, was going to own her.
“Last year, I felt like the wheelchair was pretty close to my ass if I may say so. I felt like, ‘Oh she’s really gaining on me, I’ll be stuck in that wheelchair for the rest of my life.'”
Now things have started to turn around for Fiorito. She has regained her mobility thanks to the “miracle” of medical marijuana.
Last winter her neurologist suggested she take a chance and participate in a clinical trial on medical cannabis.
“I had nothing to lose,” Fiorito said. “(The cannabis) was like a miracle. Within three days my legs were less stiff, they didn’t feel as heavy.
“At physiotherapy, they time me for six minutes to see how far I can walk. In October I did 89 meters. This week, it was 251 meters. I’m not joking when I say it’s like a miracle.”
Fiorito is one of 70 Montreal-area patients participating in a clinical trial for medicinal cannabis capsules. The study, which entered its second phase last April, will try to determine if cannabis can be used as a less-dangerous substitute for opiate-based painkillers.
If it’s successful — and the capsules are approved by Health Canada’s Office of Controlled Substances — cannabis could be sold in pharmacies and covered by provincial health insurance.
The trial is a joint project between Canadian cannabis heavyweights Tetra Pharma Bio and Montreal’s own medical marijuana clinic Santé Cannabis. The success of the trial has caught even the researchers off guard.
“I was surprised at how tolerable it was, at how safe it was,” recalled Dr. Antonio Vigano, who is heading up the study. “That’s the main concern, when you do these trials, is to make sure the product is safe.”Dr. Vigano says that in the pool of 70 participants only one had experienced any adverse effects.
Erin Prosk – Co-Founder of Santé Cannabis – says she hopes the favorable results of the trials will help improve Canada’s medical marijuana program and expand the list of available medications for patients.
“This is about giving people like Joanne (Fiorito) a chance to access medicine that is quality-controlled and affordable,” said Erin Prosk, the co-founder of Santé Cannabis. “The medical cannabis system we have now is not enough. It’s a Band-Aid, it’s a temporary solution.”
Canada’s medical cannabis system has existed under its current form for only four years. Each of the roughly 250,000 patients with prescriptions can order weed online from one of 115 producers licensed by the federal government.
But unlike with the vast majority of medicines, cannabis isn’t covered by health insurance. In fact, patients have to pay sales tax on it.
“The Cannabis Act is causing collateral damage in our world,” said Prosk. “Some people think that with legalization, patients can just go to the store and buy cannabis. But the people who use medical cannabis need a specific pharmaceutical-grade product to treat specific symptoms.”
In the study, patients are either given a placebo or capsules that contain a high concentration of two cannabinoids; tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which has a psychoactive and pain-numbing affect — and cannabidiol (CBD) — which can be used as an anti-inflammatory, a muscle relaxant and to treat epilepsy.
Gradually, the doctors increase patient doses until they reach a point where the medicine takes affect.
“Our theory was that starting low and increasing slowly is really important to increase that tolerability,” said Vigano, an associate professor of oncology at McGill University. “That’s what we’re seeing in practice. It’s encouraging.”
Prosk has been on the forefront of the fight to increase access to medical marijuana for years and says cannabis research is still in its infancy.
As her clinic’s study is underway, the University of British Columbia is leading a trial on the use of medicinal pot for people who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Considering where we were four years ago — just getting the system to license cannabis producers off the ground — it’s unreal how far we’ve come,” said Prosk. “We’re global leaders in cannabis research and we’re getting interest from international companies. Countries like Germany and Australia are looking to Canada for leadership.
“There’s huge potential here and the right people are finally taking notice.”
Source – Montreal Gazette
Image – Pixabay