How Canada’s legal recreational marijuana will affect medical research?

Medical marijuana has long been legal in Canada since 2001. However, Canadians couldn’t get easy access to their cannabis-based medically prescribed drugs as there were no official Licensed Producers (LPs) earlier on.

But in June 2013, the Canadian government implemented what it called the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR). MMPR effectively gave birth to what we know as LPs, who disseminated the cannabis prescriptions to patients.

Under the MMPR, patients were also able to access quality-controlled dried marijuana produced under secure and sanitary conditions.

However, medical cannabis prescription until this current day is not seen as an equal to other pharmaceutical drugs. Patients have to pay taxes on their medical cannabis unlike conventional drugs, which is exempted.

In addition, research on medical marijuana has not been as intensive nor has fully exploited the plant’s medicinal value especially on the backdrop of anecdotal evidence that the green herb can cure ailments as malignant as cancer, but it is nowhere officially prescribed to those suffering from the tumor or those undergoing chemotherapy.

But as Canada finally reaches a full circle in its full-fledged legalization of marijuana, will the legal recreational use of marijuana spur more research on medical cannabis or at least help in to bring more of a free dialogue to reduce the stigma attached to it?

Doctors are afraid to prescribe [medical marijuana] it because they might be taking a liability of prescribing a product they don’t know anything about for something as simple as pain management or migraine relief,” Warren Bravo, CEO of the Canadian licensed producer of medical cannabis Green Relief Inc., told The Puff Puff Post.

Warren Bravo, CEO of the Canadian licensed producer of medical cannabis Green Relief Inc., speaks to The Puff Puff Post during Lift&Co. expo in Toronto in late May.
Warren Bravo, CEO of the Canadian licensed producer of medical cannabis Green Relief Inc., speaks to The Puff Puff Post during Lift&Co. expo in Toronto in late May.

The Ontario-based Green Relief has received its license to sell cannabis oil in April, marking a pivotal step in the company’s growth.

While Bravo said his company is “not going to take advantage of the recreational market,” he urged for more research for the medicinal use of cannabis.

“It is important to have double-blind studies, peer-reviewed papers for doctors to be more informed,” he said in hopes of paving the way for cannabis to gain wider acceptance as medicine.

With almost two decades since medical marijuana has been legalized in Canada, LPs still “can not promote the advocacy of cannabis,” he said.

He added:

“Anecdotally speaking, people are treating themselves [using cannabis] and doctors are seeing the value.”

When asked if cannabis can cure cancer, for example, Bravo said: “I personally can’t comment on that because Health Canada won’t let me,” reflecting on the ongoing stigma attached to medical marijuana.

Lana Culley, the director for business development from Anandia Labs, said: “Opportunities are huge” now that legalization is imminent.

Lana Culley. (Image via LinkedIn)
Lana Culley. (Image via LinkedIn)

Anandia is a Health Canada licensed company co-founded by Dr. Jonathan Page, who led a Canadian team that reported the first sequence of the cannabis genome.

“Our plan [on research] won’t change dramatically,” she said. However, the B.C.-based company is planning more research to further study the genetics of the plant. It will also conduct research on the medical and the consumer sides as well.

“On the medical side, there is so much interest and talk about the different applications that cannabis can have, but there isn’t a lot of concrete evidence over what compounds can do, and what kind of combination of compounds can do what,” Culley said. “I think with legalization it will be so much easier for [research and development] RND to happen.”

Culley said as production and consumption will expectedly go up following legalization, there will be new challenges to tackle.

“We will see new production problems emerge,” she said.

“We are going to see different pests moving in that people haven’t seen before; we need different ways to mitigate this without pesticide, which is not allowed to be used on cannabis.”

With Anandia having its own bank data on the biochemical nature of the plant, the challenge is how to translate this in terms of developing its future products.

“We are looking at the genetic diversity of cannabis and its breeding varieties. We would like to improve yields, and resistance to pests and diseases,” she said, heralding more research to be done on marijuana.

As Anandia attempts to tap into the consumer and recreational side of marijuana, Green Relief wants to continue “exploring the medicinal value of the cannabis.”

“We want to help people weather ailments, and make specific tailor-made medicinal products to help them to cope and get through the day,” Bravo said, signaling that – yes – legalizing the recreational use of marijuana will give some more free space to research as the sky is the limit.