UCSD Cleared to Import Canadian Cannabis for Clinical Study

It sounds like a recycled plot from Super Troopers, but it’s true.

The University of California San Diego’s (UCSD) School of Medicine’s Center for Medical Cannabis Research received approval from the U.S. federal government to import cannabis from Canadian medical cannabis supplier Tilray to support their study into treatments for adults with essential tremor (ET).

Effects of Cannabis on Essential Tremor

Cannabis’ potentially positive effects on those who suffer with tremor-related conditions have been widely publicized recently. The FDA recently approved GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex CBD capsules to treat a rare form of epilepsy. Just this week, a California judge ruled that a Kindergarten student will be allowed to receive her THC-A tincture treatments for her seizure disorder at school. While these are great steps toward understanding how cannabis treats seizure disorders, more research is needed.

UCSD’s clinical trial will focus on using CBD and low-dose THC to treat essential tremor, a nervous system disorder that has previously been treated with repurposed medications originally intended to treat high blood pressure or other forms of seizure disorders. The study, set to begin in early 2019 and last about one year, is expected not only to provide insights into cannabis as a viable treatment for ET, but also into ET itself. According to UCSD’s press release:

The double-blind, placebo-control, cross-over clinical trial will enroll 16 adult participants who have been diagnosed with ET by a movement disorder neurologist. All study participants will be gradually administered an oral cannabis formulation with a 20:1 ratio of CBD to THC. After completing a two-week period at the maximum target dose, participants will taper off, followed by a washout period before crossing over to the alternate study arm.

In other words, this study is legit.

Import vs Locally Sourced

To risk stating the obvious, UCSD is located in sunny San Diego, where it is not difficult to find medical or recreational cannabis. It seems odd that a university located in a state where both medicinal and recreational cannabis is legal would have to import cannabis for their study. Chances are better than average that they could find a willing, legally compliant grower within a 20 minute drive. Unfortunately, cannabis is still prohibited under federal law, which makes obtaining cannabis from a federally-approved source nearly impossible. The U.S. currently has one approved cannabis source for studies: the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which uses cannabis grown at the University of Mississippi. This is one of the main reasons why cannabis research has been effectively stalled in the U.S.

Instead, UCSD received approval from the FDA and DEA to import cannabis for their study from Canadian medical cannabis company Tilray. Because local California growers are only permitted at the state level, they are ineligible from providing cannabis for any federally-backed study. Tilray also provided the cannabis used in the research behind the approval of Epidiolex and is working to provide cannabis to the numerous other federal cannabis studies currently underway.

Tilray will provide the cannabis for UCSD’s study as well as limited financial support but will not play any role in reviewing the study’s results.

More information on essential tremor can be found at the International Essential Tremor Foundation’s website.