Although cannabis is now legal in Canada, there is still much to understand about the substance. One research organization at the University of Saskatchewan has a mandate to clear the air around the many applications of cannabis.
The Cannabinoid Research Initiative of Saskatchewan is a research team at the U of S that aims to explore the applications of cannabis. Guided under the four pillars of bio-medical research, analytical evaluations, socio-economics and knowledge transfer, the CRIS seeks to provide a solid evidence base for cannabis by means of an interdisciplinary approach.
On Oct. 2, the CRIS made waves when a U of S media release announced that the research group signed a three-year a memorandum of understanding with Sundial Growers Inc., an Alberta-based cannabis company. The MOU outlined a series of future cannabis clinical trials, wherein the CRIS will look into the effects of cannabis on dementia.
Jane Alcorn, co-lead of the bio-medical branch of the CRIS and associate dean of research and graduate affairs in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, says that, although the MOU with Sundial Growers is an important step, the agreement will not be the last of its kind.
“It’s less about the agreement. It’s more about doing the research necessary to ensure that cannabis has use in certain indications and providing the evidence base for that,” Alcorn said. “We enter into agreements with other companies, too… In this space, there is a lot of competition, and a lot of companies are looking to the academic institutions because that’s where the expertise lies in terms of writing studies.”
A marijuana plant.
For Alcorn, the research that the CRIS will be completing will be quite valuable, as cannabis is a substance that has been marketed before being widely clinically tested.
“I think there is demand for cannabis research from the perspective of legitimizing the industry,” Alcorn said. “I’m a pharmaceutical scientist. I understand [the] drug discovery and development process. You do a lot of research first, you ensure safety and efficacy, and then a drug is marketed. Cannabis, in a sense, has done it in reverse… Now, we’re going to go back and do safety and efficacy evaluations.”
Alcorn reveals that, although there are currently no registered participants in their clinical trials, the CRIS has already been contacted by people interested in the forthcoming studies. Alcorn states that the trials are on hold until funding comes through, but that, should the grants that the organization has already applied for be accepted, the CRIS can start their studies by March 2019.
Since the CRIS is an organization made of up of multiple disciplines, Alcorn reveals that their research will include contributions from many areas of expertise. She also believes that students will be able to play a role in this research, eventually.
“As we grow, there will be a lot of opportunities … for undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral fellows,” Alcorn said. “There will always be basic science research, clinical research, research in the agriculture sector and
socio-economic research where we will need to have undergraduates and graduates to participate in that. One of our primary purposes in CRIS is to provide a training ground for all types of trainees.”
Ultimately, Alcorn believes that the CRIS will be able to dispel some of the evidenceless rhetoric surrounding cannabis.
“There’s a certain portion of the population that thinks cannabis is a cure-all for everything — it’s not,” Alcorn said. “Cannabis is going to be beneficial in certain indications and in certain populations. We need to identify with strong evidence that cannabis will work for [a] disease in a certain population. It’s not going to be the be-all or end-all for everything.”
Photo: Michael Fischer / Supplied