Ontario centre to research uses and effectiveness of medicinal marijuana

As the number of conditions for which medicinal cannabis, shown in this image, is being prescribed grows, an Ontario research centre says it plans to look into whether pot is actually an effective treatment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

As the use of medicinal cannabis grows, a new Ontario research centre says it plans to look into whether pot is actually an effective treatment for various ailments.

The Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research has been launched by McMaster University and St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton.

The centre says it will focus on conducting research, sharing evidence-based information and creating a network of professionals interested in further understanding medicinal cannabis.

Co-director James MacKillop — a professor of psychiatry and neurosciences — says medicinal cannabis use is skyrocketing and the number of possible conditions it is used for is rising, but the state of the evidence is often quite poor.

The centre's research projects include reviews of the economic and policy implications of cannabis legislation and the development of methods to measure chemical ingredients in medicinal cannabis products.

The centre's medical adviser, Dr. Ramesh Zacharias, says the creation of a community dedicated to generating the clinical evidence required for informed medicinal cannabis use now and in the future is critical.

"One of the lessons learned from the current opioid crisis is that we need good research to clearly identify the appropriate use of medicinal cannabis and to limit potential harm," Zacharias said Tuesday in a release. "We need to ensure we do not make the same mistakes made with opioid prescribing."

Jason Busse, an associate professor of anesthesia for McMaster's medical school and the research centre's other co-director, said prescribing of medicinal cannabis for chronic pain has outpaced the evidence to support the practice.

"We will provide high-quality research to guide evidence-based decision-making by patients and clinicians," Busse said.

The research centre will also study medical cannabis' potential for addiction and other adverse events.

MacKillop said partnering with St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton was important because cannabis use and misuse are common among psychiatric patients.

St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton provides regional services, treating nearly 24,000 patients annually in its mental health and addictions program.

The new research centre is hosting its first conference on the science of cannabis, with local, national and international experts in the field on Feb. 9 and 10, 2018, in Hamilton.

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