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#4: of 12 Cannabis Innovators We’re Watching That Are Killing It In All Things Weed

In conversation with Philippe Lucas, vice-president of Patient Research and Access at Tilray: How this Canadian cannabis leader is pioneering research on the use — and quantifiable benefits — of medical cannabis among the fastest-growing group of users: older patients.

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On research around medical cannabis.

Tilray was actually the first GMP-certified medical cannabis producer in North America, and has conducted Canada’s largest national prospective study on the medical use of cannabis. So our research is extensive: We’ve looked at various therapeutic uses of cannabis — for instance, in pediatric epilepsy, cancer chemotherapy, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders and, most recently, in our study on the use of medical cannabis by older patients. On the latest research. The goal of our MCOPS research — Medical Cannabis in Older Patients — is to examine the impact of medical cannabis on patients over 50 years old; the average age of participants is 66. Older patients are the fastest-growing demographic accessing medical cannabis, but there’s very little understanding of how they use this medicine. While the research is ongoing, we’ve conducted an interim analysis of these patients during their first six months of prescribed medical cannabis use. Overwhelmingly these are patients affected by chronic pain, arthritis and insomnia — those three conditions have accounted for about 80 percent of participants in the study. We’ve looked at how medical cannabis has affected their quality of life, pain management, sleep and prescription drug use. We used well-validated measures to gather data, such as the Brief Pain Inventory, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, and the EuroQol Five Dimensions Questionnaire that measures quality of life. We documented all prescription drug use and monitored any adverse events related to the cannabis use.

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Our research suggests that many patients are looking for alternatives to these drugs, and to the side effects that can come with them.

On the study’s findings.

Working with a team including Dr. Blake Pearson and Tilray’s Clinical Research Manager Kaye Ong, we found that 74 percent of patients in the study reported improvements in pain management; 63 percent reported better sleep; and 74 percent reported improved quality of life. At the same time, we saw statistically significant reductions in the six primary categories of prescription drugs used by these patients: non-opioid and opioid pain medications, blood pressure medications, antiseizure drugs, diabetes drugs and antidepressants. The percentage of patients using opioids, for example, dropped 63 percent over six months. And the average daily dosage of opioids dropped 74 percent. Generally, our research — and that of others — has shown that people respond well to medical cannabis, and it seems to be well-tolerated by older populations. The majority of the patients in the study were using orally ingested CBD products — so typically high-CBD oils. The overall safety and efficacy of medical cannabis is significant, particularly when compared with some of the side effects of other prescription drugs like opioids, such as dizziness, disorientation and constipation. It’s also significant when you look at the current opioid overdose crisis. Our research suggests that many patients are looking for alternatives to these drugs, and to the side effects that can come with them. The research we do or support through Tilray is always very well-received by the medical community and by our federal regulators. I’m very fortunate and very grateful to have the opportunity to do this work, and share the findings with physicians and policymakers around the globe. And from a patient perspective, our data can help inform treatment options, which is so important.

On Tilray and medical cannabis down the road.

We know through research that there’s a very low potential for harm associated with medical cannabis, particularly compared with prescription drugs. And in the treatment of common conditions — pain, stress, anxiety, insomnia — we’ve seen a high potential for success. Knowing this, I think there’s an opportunity, with Canada in a leadership role, to make medical cannabis a staple in the physician’s toolkit — so that patients who might benefit from it can learn about it directly from their doctor. This would help remove one of the major barriers to accessing medical cannabis. We also need to address the cost barrier. At Tilray, we mitigate that with a compassionate access program that provides discounts to lower-income patients. But we really need the federal government to remove the excise tax on medical cannabis, and we need both private and public payers to cover the cost of medical cannabis to patients. Some private payers are starting to do this, but it needs to happen across the board. It makes sense from a financial standpoint — given the potential for medical cannabis to reduce prescription-drug costs — and more importantly from a patient perspective: We don’t want patients to have to choose between paying their rent and buying the cannabis they need to help them live pain-free. That’s not a choice Canadians should have to make.

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