The Arthritis Society Canada Funds More Medical Cannabis Research Amid Legalization Speculation

New clinical trial will study use of oral cannabinoids for fibromyalgia pain

CANADA: The Arthritis Society has announced the winner of its latest research grant for the study of medical cannabis and arthritis. McGill University’s Dr. Mark Ware, who has garnered a worldwide reputation as a leader in pain research, will lead a trial examining the use of oral cannabinoids for fibromyalgia — a disease that inflicts chronic pain on some 520,000 Canadians, most of them women1.

The study was selected from among several proposals submitted by Canadian researchers to receive the three-year grant, following an extensive peer review process by an impartial volunteer panel of cross-disciplinary medical and scientific experts as well as arthritis health consumers.

This is the second medical cannabis research project The Arthritis Society has funded in the past 18 months: in 2015, Dr. Jason McDougall was awarded a similar three-year grant to study the impact of medical cannabis on arthritis pain and disease management.

“These investments are about leading by example,” says Arthritis Society president and CEO Janet Yale. “Patients and physicians both need to be able to make informed decisions about whether cannabis has a place in the individual’s treatment plan. With these commitments, The Arthritis Society is doing its part to help fill some of the critical knowledge gaps around medical cannabis, but we can’t do it alone. There’s no reason for the government to wait until new legislation is in place to start addressing the need for research identified by their own task force. That’s why we continue to call on the federal government to make a firm commitment in the 2017 budget to fund $25 million in medical cannabis research over the next five years.”

Impact of fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system, delivering widespread pain throughout the body. Pain can vary in location and intensity on a daily or even hourly basis, and can come with a host of other symptoms such as fatigue, sleep difficulties, lack of concentration and memory, mood swings, gastrointestinal problems and heightened sensitivity to touch and pressure.

Many fibromyalgia patients have reported that cannabis has positive effects on pain and symptom management, but this has not yet been confirmed in large-scale clinical trials. This study will be used to help educate patients and health professionals regarding the possible risks and benefits of oral cannabis in fibromyalgia therapy.

“This disease has a tremendous impact on a person’s life,” Dr. Ware explains, “but to date we haven’t really had any good treatment options to offer. Opioids and NSAIDs for pain management are often ineffective for fibromyalgia pain, or can have serious negative side effects — especially when used for prolonged periods. We hope to identify whether oral cannabinoids can offer the person with fibromyalgia hope for relief from their symptoms, and help restore their quality of life. We are grateful for the support of The Arthritis Society for this important project.”

New regulatory framework

The announcement comes just days after the report of the federal task force on legalization and regulation of marijuana was made public. That report echoes the priorities expressed by The Arthritis Society and other patient advocacy groups about ensuring that the new regulatory regime addresses patient concerns, with a priority on access, affordability and the vital need for more research. Earlier this fall, The Arthritis Society led a joint submission to the task force by patient advocates, and followed it up by co-facilitating a meeting where task force members heard directly from patients who use medical cannabis. The government is expected to issue new legislation as early as Spring 2017.

Two thirds of people who use cannabis for medical purposes are doing so to help cope with the pain, fatigue and other symptoms of arthritis.

“In the rush to legalize cannabis for recreational use, we need to be careful that the needs of people who rely on cannabis for medical purposes aren’t forgotten,” says Yale. “We will be watching closely to ensure that the new regulations put patients’ needs first.”

MMJ Patients Speak To Canadian Task Force on Marijuana Legalization And Regulation

CANADA: Patients who use cannabis for medical purposes had the opportunity today to directly address the federal government’s Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation about their issues and concerns as the Task Force develops recommendations for the government’s planned major changes to Canadian laws about cannabis.

The full afternoon session in Toronto, hosted by leading Canadian patient advocacy groups The Arthritis Society, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana and the Canadian AIDS Society and long-time medical cannabis patient advocate Hilary Black, was co-chaired by the Task Force Chair, The Hon. A. Anne McLellan.

The patients participating in the afternoon session represent a wide diversity of Canadians who currently use cannabis for medical purposes. A key concern for patients is that with the legalization of cannabis for personal use, the government must ensure that the new legal framework responds to and prioritizes patients’ needs.

Patient issues and experience

During the session, patients told the Task Force of their experiences and challenges in accessing a regulated and affordable supply of medical cannabis and evidence-based information about this therapy, focusing on four main topics: access to sources, affordability, variety of products, and research and information needs.

Patients emphasized the importance of having access to a supply of medical cannabis in all its forms and potencies that is regulated for safety, potency and quality under a new regime that provides for a variety of distribution options, such as self-production, mail order and through pharmacies and retail outlets.

Medical cannabis costs are a significant financial strain for many patients, especially if they are on a fixed income. Patients spoke about affordability issues due to lack of access to insurance coverage for medical cannabis and the burden of having to pay sales taxes, unlike prescription drugs. Some patients shared how this financial burden forces them to choose between their medical cannabis and basic life necessities, such as groceries. Patients called on the Task Force to ensure access to affordable medicine is provided as part of legalization.

Patients described the need for more research and evidence-based information for both doctors and patients. Many face barriers in finding a physician that is well informed about the use of cannabis for medical purposes and in a position to integrate it into their patients’ treatment options.

“I’d like to thank The Arthritis Society, the Canadian AIDS Society and Canadians For Fair Access to Medical Marijuana for organizing today’s productive roundtable so the Task Force could hear directly from patients about their concerns regarding cannabis legalization,” said Anne McLellan, Chair of the Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation. “The voices of patients are important to the Task Force, and are among many important views that we are considering as we develop our recommendations on legalizing and regulating access to cannabis.”

Patient group perspectives

“We are grateful that the Task Force has taken the time to hear the direct voices of Canadian patients on these important issues,” said Janet Yale, President and CEO of The Arthritis Society. “Medical cannabis already helps many Canadians manage arthritis pain but we need to ensure that we have robust clinical evidence on medical efficacy and the appropriate form and dosage for treatment.”

“As we heard at the roundtable meeting, Canadians who use medical cannabis have valuable insights and experiences to guide the development of the new laws and regulations,” said Jonathan Zaid, Founder and Executive Director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. “We are pleased the Task Force listened to the patients and hope that the insights they heard will play a strong role in guiding the development of their recommendations.”

“We believe that hearing directly from patients who use cannabis for medical purposes will give the Task Force a vital and very useful perspective as they complete their important work,” said Dr. Lynne Belle-Isle, National Programs Manager, Canadian AIDS Society. “In the discussions about legalization of cannabis for personal use, we must ensure that the needs of patients who benefit from the use of cannabis to ease their symptoms are considered and integrated into the new regulatory framework.”