Medical cannabis research is notoriously problematic to get off the ground. After all, why would any government fund research into something it believes only brings addiction and abuse?
Other possibilities involve researchers collaborating with any pharmaceutical companies willing to fund studies. But that also brings its own ethical concerns.
So what can someone do if they would like to independently fund research?
One option gaining popularity is to start a crowdfunding campaign – and hope that the general public feel suitably moved to donate some of their hard earned cash.
Why is medical cannabis research so difficult to fund?
The real stumbling block in medical cannabis research is generally attributed to the plant’s schedule 1 status, whereby it is classified as having ‘no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.’
Greg Gerdeman, Assistant Professor of Biology specialising in the endocannabinoid system, explains:
“So throughout the 80’s and 90’s, the only funding to study cannabis or cannabinoids was under the auspices of NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Research hypotheses therefore had to study the paradigms of drug abuse and addiction.”
And so it has become a kind of self fulfilling prophecy. Labelled as lacking any accepted medical use, this same classification has impeded the very research that could have proved the plant’s therapeutic benefits in the first place.
Plus, throw in a lack of willingness by pharmaceutical companies to invest money in researching cannabis compounds that cannot be patented, and it’s no surprise that clinical trials are sadly lacking.
That’s why some researchers, activists, and even parents have taken matters into their own hands. Around the world they have launched crowdfunding campaigns to independently raise funds for the research that they would like to see come to the fruition.
1. Medical Cannabis Bike Tour
Perhaps the most well known and successful fundraising effort has been the Medical Cannabis Bike Tour.
The event began in 2012, when just two riders set off on a bid to raise for medical cannabis research. Last year saw an astonishing 80 riders taking part, and who knows how many will ride out again this autumn when they cycle across the Czech Republic and Austria.
So far participants have raised 350,000 Euros in sponsorship, enough money to fund a ground breaking trial with scientists from the Complutense University in Madrid. They will research the use of THC and CBD in patients with Glioblastoma.
In the study, patients recently diagnosed with this aggressive and difficult to treat form of cancer, will be given the 1:1 ration THC/CBD preparation on top of their first line therapy. It will be run by the Spanish Group of Neuro-oncological Investigation GEINO.
Guillermo Velasco, one of the leading investigators in cannabinoid research and cancer at the Complutense University, is involved with the trial. He explains the difference that independent funding can bring:
“In theory, in independent clinical trials you can get all the data more rapidly than if a pharma company is running the study. They are generally more interested in taking all the data for themselves, and publishing it for when it’s interesting for them.”
However, Velasco doubts if it’s possible to get a medical cannabis drug to market without the involvement of a pharmaceutical company.
“To do larger studies we’re talking thousands of patients which is extremely expensive, and very complicated to get just from crowdfunding. And at the end of the day, (if) someone needs to produce new medicine that is administered to the patients, you need a company that is doing all the manipulation, the packaging, production etc.”
But that’s not to discount the importance of crowdfunding campaigns like the Medical Cannabis Bike Tour.
Velasco: “So the reason why these crowdfunding campaigns are very interesting is because we can push or encourage for there to be more basic research, and maybe help to run studies on diseases where the pharma companies are not always so interested because there aren’t so many patients, or it’s not so worthwhile economically.”
For more information on bike tour go to MCBT website
2. Whole Plant Cannabis Study
Medical cannabis activist Jeff Ditchfield saw just such a need for an independently funded study when it became clear to him that no pharmaceutical company would fund research into whole cannabis plant extracts and cancer.
In an interview Jeff said: “A pressing question for me is; which is more effective as an anti-cancer agent? Whole plant extracts or individual pharmaceutical grade cannabinoids (both synthetic and plant derived)? This study will hopefully answer this question.”
Through a crowdfunding campaign, Jeff has raised over €35,750 for a study to be carried out at Madrid Complutense University under cannabinoid and cancer specialists, Manuel Guzmán, Guillermo Velasco, and Cristina Sanchez.
Lead investigator Guillermo Velasco wonders whether the study will prove or disprove some of the claims made about minor cannabinoids in the plant:
“Many people are claiming that these terpenes or these other cannabinoids are good for certain patients. But there isn’t scientific results behind it. It would be interesting to test if they do. And if they do, what are the targets within the body, or within the cancer cells that are responding to these other cannabinoids.”
Jeff’s whole plant study has already started and the results will be released soon.
3. Medical Cannabis Research Fund
Dr Jacob M Vigil, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of New Mexico, is fed up with the barriers researchers face in the United States if they want to get federal funding for medical cannabis research. So he decided to try and circumvent these restrictions by starting a Medical Cannabis Research Fund (MCRF).
The purpose of the fund is to support scientific research into medical cannabis at The University of New Mexico.
According to Dr Vigil, “findings from these multi-disciplinary investigations are intended to generate basic and clinical knowledge, educate patients and physicians, and help inform regulation and use of medical Cannabis.”
The MCRF is currently funding a research project entitled: ‘The Impact of the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program among People with Chronic Debilitating Health Conditions,’ which is “the first large, epidemiological assessment of the use and application of medical Cannabis among a wide-range of patients with varying chronic health conditions (e.g., chronic pain, cancer, PTSD).”
You can visit the fund’s website for more information or to make a donation.
4. Study on Medical Cannabis and Multiple Sclerosis
Colorado is one of the trailblazing states in the US when it comes to medical cannabis, but it also has some of the highest rates of MS in the country. That’s one of the reasons why Thorsten Rudroff, director of CSU’s Integrative Neurophysiology Lab, wanted to study the effects of long term cannabis use amongst MS sufferers in the state.
In an interview with Herb he said: “Marijuana use may have additional benefits, such as improving motor function, but this is all based on anecdotal evidence. We don’t have scientific evidence that this is working, so we think this research could provide valuable information.”
Again Rudroff frustrated with the limitations of federal funding, decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign. He hopes that if results prove positive, he will have more ammunition to get a federal grant, allowing him to extend the study in the future.
Rudroff successfully raised the $7000 target and the study is currently taking place.
5. The Autism Study
Mum Abigail Dar has experienced first hand the positive effects whole plant cannabis can have on a child with autism. Before taking medical cannabis, her severely autistic son Yuval was violent both to himself and others, as well as having regular seizures.
Since experiencing his seemingly miraculous transformation, Abigail has become an advocate for the use of medical cannabis in autism. She has joined together with two other warrior cannamoms, Mieko Hester-Perez and Sharon Imberman, to form a ‘Global informational center for safe and effective treatment of Medical Cannabis for Autism.’
Abigail had already begun a data gathering project in Israel following over 70 autism patients treated with medical cannabis.
However, she believes this study should take place worldwide. That’s why she has launched a crowdfunding appeal to make this possible.
Abigail says: “There are already few states around the world where kids and adults with autism have access to and treated with cannabis for autism. But there’s no one single reliable independent source who can gather the data expand our scientific understanding and provide guidance and treatment protocols to the professionals, careers and parents dealing with this innovative treatment.”
So far almost $11,000 have been raised, with a target set at $30,000. For more information or to make a donation, visit Abigail’s Generosity Page.