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Cannabis Assessed for Pain in Real-World Trial

Cannabis plant

Cannabis plant (Michael Fischer,

10 July 2020. A clinical trial in Canada is evaluating medical cannabis products as treatments for chronic pain with participants reporting their experiences online. The Medical Cannabis Real-World Evidence or MC-RWE study is conducted by Toronto General Hospital, part of University Health Network, and Canadian drug store chain Shoppers Drug Mart.

The opioid crisis is affecting Canada as well as the U.S., with much of the opioid abuse traced to addictions formed from prescription pain medications. Physicians in Canada and elsewhere hear from patients about pain relief offered by medical cannabis products, but little comprehensive, systematic, and detailed evidence has so far been collected. The MC-RWE study aims to provide data from patients prescribed cannabis-based pain treatments, with results tied to specific products and doses.

Hance Clarke, an anesthesiologist and director of pain services at Toronto General Hospital, is leading the project. “We need the evidence to help us in prescribing the appropriate validated product, at the right dose, for the right patient,” says Clarke in a University Health Network statement. “Ensuring quality standards will allow physicians and their patients to be confident about using medical cannabis to treat a wide range of pain-related ailments.”

In the study, patients report on cannabis-based pain treatments prescribed by their doctors and acquired through the online portal Medical Cannabis by Shoppers, a part of Shoppers Drug Mart. The study is enrolling 2,000 participants age 19 and older experiencing chronic pain, as well as sleep disorders, anxiety, or depression. This observational study has no control or comparison group.

Individuals are evaluated at the beginning of the study with several standard rating scales completed online assessing pain, sleep, anxiety, and depression, then after six, 12, and 24 weeks, receiving a nominal reward ($20) for taking part. Recreational cannabis users and people already registered with Medical Cannabis by Shoppers are excluded form the study.

Researchers expect participants will report on a wide range of cannabis-based products including dried flowers, oil extracts, edibles, and, topical treatments. Medical Cannabis by Shoppers, a funder of the project, says it can report on many aspects of items purchased through its portal, providing specific chemical and genetic details needed by the study team, with a system using blockchain to assure integrity of the data.

Ken Weisbrod, vice president for business development and cannabis strategy at Shoppers Drug Mart says, “Our development of a blockchain secured initiative, with TruTrace Technologies Inc., has now been integrated into an operational portal that will provide products with an immutable digital identity, that can capture everything from detailed chemistry down to its DNA.”

The MC-RWE team hopes the findings generate more systematic and rigorous evidence to provide more options for chronic pain patients. “The challenge with the medical use of cannabis,” notes Clarke, “is that physicians and patients are unsure of the quality of products being consumed. For the first time we will have a national repository of data that can provide answers about the effectiveness of these products, to test their claims.”

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