Although it was the November 2016 ballot that saw the most marijuana measures in US history get the “yes,” 2017 is already proving to be a giant year for medical marijuana. Maybe we can just call 2016 as the big, burly man who got the lid on the pickle jar started and 2017 as the person who gets all the credit for taking the top right off.
Here are the top medical breakthroughs 2017 will get to claim all its own.
- Clinical trial underway to look at marijuana to treat PTSD in US army veterans
The first participant in a clinical trial by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to study the effectiveness of smoking marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans. The study is the first of its kind to evaluate the safety and efficacy of using marijuana to manage symptoms of PTSD. The study received a $2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and will look at how four different levels of THC potency works with 76 veteran participants.
On its website, MAPS identifies itself as a California-based non-profit research organization focused on “the careful uses” of marijuana.
- GW Pharmaceuticals admits cannabis kills cancer cells
British company GW Pharmaceuticals has been testing medical marijuana and cancer for years but only recently ascertained, with clinical evidence, the reduced mortality rate of people with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). GBM is a form of brain cancer that typically kills patients within two years. In a recent press release, GW noted that there is substantial oncologic research on cannabinoids to treat several forms of cancer, with exceptionally positive effects on tumor growth and suppression.
- Cannabis transdermal patch developed for testing on fibromyalgia and other nerve pain disorders
Cannabis Science, Inc. is commencing their most recent foray in developing new cannabis medicines with a transdermal patch that delivers therapeutic marijuana through the skin and into the bloodstream. The aim is to use the potent and harm-reduced dosage to treat nerve pain associated with fibromyalgia, and diabetic neuropathy. Both patches will contain different ratios of the two primary cannabinoids found in cannabis: THC and CBD and each formulation will be designed to most effectively manage the symptoms of each respective illness.
- Researchers in Canada test medical cannabis oil as treatment for MS
Researchers at the Canadian University of Manitoba are performing tests on mice to see if cannabinoid oil products could be used to alleviate the neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The study’s long and dedicated title says it all: “Identifying the molecular mechanisms involved in suppressing multiple sclerosis induced neuropathic pain following cannabinoid treatment in an animal model of multiple sclerosis (MS).”
Canadian Licensed Producer of cannabis medications, CanniMed Therapeutics, will supply the cannabinoid oil products as well as the $80,000 CDN (about $61,000) grant that the study needs to commence. One of the medications being tested is a 10:10 concentration of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol); the other is a high-CBD 1:20 level.
- Medical marijuana doctors want patients to use suppositories
Smoking marijuana is not an ideal delivery system for many patients and edibles are difficult to dose, which is why some scientists have begun experimenting with cannabis suppositories as a safe and efficient manner to put therapeutic cannabinoids into the endocannabinoid system. The concern has less to do with the cannabis and more to do with the act of smoking the substance.
University of British Columbia addiction medicine specialist, Dr. Paul Farnan, is one advocate of administering medical marijuana suppositories, just like some laxatives and opioids. What happens when patients use cannabis suppositories is that the body absorbs cannabinoids into the bloodstream via mucous membranes in the rectum, allowing more absorption than any other delivery method—smoking, vaping, ingesting edibles, and sublingual drops. The lungs just aren’t especially good at absorbing cannabinoids, and the gastric acids in the stomach tend to interfere with the absorption of marijuana. This method has rapid systemic effects and reduces the psychoactive results of the drug, which is ideal for patients with chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis (MS). Suppositories are being made now by dissolving cannabis extract in an oil or butter, freezing the product into small molds.
- Medical marijuana could help ﬁght opioid epidemic
Medical practitioners and researchers concerned about the current opioid crisis point out that the use marijuana for pain relief could result in fewer prescriptions for the highly addictive opioid painkillers. Some states are even in the process of adding chronic pain to the list of conditions that qualify for a medical cannabis recommendation from doctors. One study, published in Health Affairs, found that prescriptions for drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet that are paid for by Medicare dropped substantially in states that adopted medical marijuana laws or expanded their current program to include chronic pain. A second study in 2016 from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that states with a medical marijuana program had 25 percent less opioid overdose deaths than those who have not adopted medical marijuana laws.
- Owners treating sick animals with cannabis
Cannabis isn’t just for human consumption say some pet owners who have started using products, such as extracts, pet-safe edibles, and ointments to treat their furry friends’ cancer, anxiety, seizures, and arthritis. Pet cannabis products are not regulated, but the cannabidiol (CBD) in them is a safe and efficient chemical compound that does not produce a psychoactive high that is associated with marijuana.
Not all veterinarians agree with the practice, however, saying there isn’t enough science-based evidence that CBD is effective for treating animals. Medical marijuana is legal in 28 states now, and recreationally available in eight, plus the District of Columbia, but it remains federally illegal. Even hemp-based CBD products, those not derived from the marijuana plant cannot be legally distributed; veterinarians in legal states are barred from recommending cannabis for pets and would risk losing their license if they did. Despite this, companies like TreatWell are selling cannabis tinctures that can be added to a pet’s food or administered orally. Co-founder Alison Ettel recommends different formulations based on the animals’ ailments—pain, anxiety, lack of appetite, inflammation, seizures, cancer, and glaucoma.
- Two marijuana breathalyzers are in the works for impaired drivers
As cannabis legalization sweeps the US, so do concerns over whether legalization is leading to an increase in drivers indulging in marijuana before hitting the road. That’s why two startup companies—Hound Labs and Cannabix Technologies—and likely a few more, have started distributing material on the marijuana breathalyzer systems they are developing to help detect THC in the bloodstream, similar to how alcohol breathalyzers detect the amount of alcohol in a driver’s’ blood.
Hound Labs’ device works on chemistry to test how much THC is prevalent in the driver’s fluids and is a test to be administered roadside. Whereas the Cannabix Technologies device uses a combined technology called FAIMS for its device. Whether the human body’s fluids are a reliable source of this information has yet to be confirmed, especially because THC is stored in the body for weeks. Expect to see Hound Labs release their Marijuana Breathalyzer this year with Cannabix Technologies coming out with their version shortly after.
- Could Cannabis Help Cure Alzheimer’s Disease?
Reports of cannabis helping in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease is overwhelming.
Researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California are shedding some light on how medical marijuana—the compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in particular—can treat Alzheimer’s disease because of its ability to remove amyloid from the brain. Amyloid is the toxic component, a hallmark of the disease, which builds up like a plaque in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. The other component to the disease is the inflammation that occurs as the brain reacts to the formation of amyloid. One of the marijuana’s main benefits is providing relief from inflammation. Professor David Schubert, the principal author of the Salk Institute paper, told the Daily Mail that, “Although other studies have offered evidence cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate they affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells.”
His co-author, Neel Nabar, says “it’s important to keep in mind that just because a drug may be effective doesn’t mean it can be safely used by anyone,” adding that their findings might lead to the creation of medicine that is safe, legal, and useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
- A new 3D-printed cannabis inhaler lets doctors administer medical marijuana remotely
Syqe Medical—a startup out of Tel-Aviv, Israel—has created a cannabis inhaler for physicians who want to deliver a precise dose of marijuana remotely for their patients. The Isreal Health Ministry is supportive of the device, which is created via 3D-printing and currently in use at Rambam hospital in Haifa. Times of Israel describes it the hospital as the world’s first to prescribe weed as “standard medical treatment.”
“For doctors, the inhaler solves the problem of [recommending] plants for smoking, and offers a solution for patients in that, for the first time, they will be able to receive a precise dose of medical cannabis,” said Syqe Medical chairman Eytan Hyam.
The pocket-size gadgets come pre-loaded with 100-microgram cannabis cartridges, a caregiver interface, thermal and flow controllers, lung interfacing, and wireless connectivity to the clinical databases. Pain clinics, cancer centers, intensive care units, and other medical institutions can all potentially benefit, which is why Syqe turned to Teva Pharmaceuticals to take on the marketing and distribution of the units. Teva is considered the largest generic drug maker in the world.
- Weed Gum Being Tested as Aid Against Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a notoriously unpredictable and treacherous disorder where the gut becomes unmanageable and painful while trying to do its job of digesting food and absorbing nutrients.
“People often experience sudden flare-ups, and for many, it has a negative impact on their quality of life. CBD has shown to have promising effects, but there has been a clear need for practical and effective formulations,” says Renger Witkamp, a nutrition and pharmacology professor at Wageningen University.
This is the inspiration behind AXIM Biotechnologies’ newest creation of a weed gum called CanChew Plus that is believed to treat stomach cramps and to bloat and diarrhea associated with IBS. Why gum? Cannabidiol (CBD) comes in many forms, including oils and pills, but Witkamp believes that gum will deliver a sustained release dosage of CBD in a highly bioavailable form.
- Pot Use Linked To Hopeful Outcomes In Brain Injury Patients
Researchers from Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States are all evaluating the use of cannabis to improve outcomes in patients hospitalized with intracerebral hemorrhages (ICH aka bleeding in the brain). Right now, 725 subjects with spontaneous ICH are being tested. The inspiration for the study are the findings that cannabis-positive subjects possessed “milder ICH presentation” when hospitalized and presented “less disability” post-hospitalization compared to similar patients who do not use marijuana.
- A new strain of cannabis that could help treat psychosis
Although it was touted as a potential trigger for schizophrenia, marijuana appears to have antipsychotic effects.
Dr David Potter and the GW Pharmaceuticals team are developing a cannabis-based treatment for psychosis and related illnesses such as schizophrenia. Despite the belief that marijuana causes psychosis, Potter explains that the cannabis plant is much more than just a psychedelic drug.
“The most well-known ingredient in marijuana that gets people high is THC [or tetrahydrocannabinol],” Potter tells The Guardian. “But THC is just one of dozens of potentially useful cannabinoids in the plant.”
While high doses of THC can induce temporary schizophrenia-like symptoms—paranoia, delusions, anxiety and hallucinations—cannabis also contains a cannabinoid known as cannabidiol (CBD), which helps negate those effects.