Cannabis trials on the up

C&I Issue 9, 2023

Read time: 3 mins

Simon Frost

Cannabis-based therapies are becoming an increasingly attractive alternative to opioids for chronic pain management.

A recent report has revealed a 650% increase in the number of clinical trials involving cannabis-based medicines since 2010, signalling a significant shift in the medical landscape.

Published by cannabis B2B specialist Prohibition Partners in collaboration with Cannabiscientia, it coincides with a pivotal recommendation from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reclassify cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III, potentially expanding access to these treatments.

In 2010, only eight clinical trials worldwide explored the use of cannabis-based medicines to treat conditions like diabetes and anxiety. In 2022, 60 clinical trials commenced – a 650% increase in just over a decade. 2023 has already seen 49 trials initiated, with more slated before the end of the year. Since 2015, every year has witnessed an increase in trials.

Pain management has emerged as a prominent focus, with 46% of trials targeting various forms of pain as the primary condition to be addressed. This encompassed chronic and neuropathic pain, including conditions such as fibromyalgia, cancer-related pain, and pain associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.

Celadon scientist
Celadon Pharmaceuticals is one UK-based company putting its resources into the development of cannabis-based treatments. Image: Celadon

As James Short, CEO of Celadon Pharmaceuticals, a UK-based pharmaceutical company which focuses on developing cannabis-based therapies, notes: ‘The UK, until recently, had 5.6m people on opioid-based pain medications, despite such drugs causing untold damage in the US. In medical cannabis, we have an historic opportunity to dislodge opioids as the go-to treatment for pain.

‘Our view is that cannabis-based medicines are a safer, and more effective, alternative treatment, and accumulating more data through trials will provide further evidence of this. Trials are therefore fundamental to the opening of the UK market for cannabis-based medicines, and that is why we are committed to investing in supportive R&D activity.’

Recent years have also seen a notable shift towards exploring the potential benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids in addressing mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Lawrence Purkiss, a senior analyst at Prohibition Partners, expressed optimism about the future. ‘Looking at the development of clinical trials in cannabis over the last decade gives great insight into the potential breakthroughs in the space in the coming years,’ he said.

Coinciding with the report’s release, the HHS issued a recommendation to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), proposing the reclassification of cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III, which could widen access to cannabis-based medicines.

Stephen Murphy, CEO of Prohibition Partners, remarked: ‘The HHS recommendation further splits the path of cannabis between adult-use and medical purposes. This helps advance access, but also opens the door for the existing healthcare and pharmaceutical industry to embrace patient demand.’

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