Two universities in Fredericton, New Brunswick are helping a small Canadian province become a world leader in the cannabis industry. Earlier this week, the University of New Brunswick announced the creation of a revolutionary position on campus - the Health Research Chair in Cannabis, which is designed to bring consistency and credibility to cannabis research in Canada and around the globe.
It's only the second position of its kind in the world. The very first was announced last May by Fredericton's St. Thomas University. Together, the two chairs will help fill significant gaps in cannabis science that have been caused by marijuana prohibition.
"Because of the fact that it was basically an illegal substance, all the big pharmaceutical companies were very, very hesitant - and still are - to engage in anything that deals with that kind of natural product," Dr. Bruno Battistini - President, CEO and Scientific Director of the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation - told Civilized. "So all the other aspects that we have are mostly anecdotal and the nature of the medical product was not tested - was not standardized."
UNB plans to advance cannabis science beyond anecdotal evidence and inconsistent studies by partnering with Tetra Bio-Pharma - a Canadian research-and-development company that will provide its own expertise on cannabis and part of their tool box to produce reliable and accurate studies of the medicinal effects and efficacy of marijuana.
"The product that Tetra Bio-Pharma uses in clinical trials is completely standardized," Battistini explained. "The levels of bioactives in the blood of patients are being measured (pharmacokinetics). And even the smoke that is being inhaled by human subjects are being measured scientifically to see what's in the smoke itself when it's burned by a special medical device, which is like a pipe where you put the pellet - which is standardized within 2 percent variation from batch to batch; in other words, a pharmaceutical grade."
He says that approach will help develop consensus about the medicinal properties, side effects, benefits and detriments of cannabis for medical researchers, pharmacists and physicians in Canada and throughout the world.
"All of these things will provide to the pharmacist and medical physicians with the necessary trust and confidence that research is being conducted in the right way to reassure everybody - Health Canada, the FDA, the EMA [European Medical Association] - about the efficacy, dosage and side effects of a new class of medication."
Challenging Cannabis Stigmas
The new research positions are ripple effects of the tremendous progress Canada has made with marijuana reform. Canada legalized medical marijuana less than 20 years ago, and will legalize recreational use by July 1, 2018. That progress has allowed UNB and other institutions to move beyond stigmas that have hampered cannabis research.
But Dr. Battistini stressed that UNB has always been at the forefront of research involving natural products like cannabis.
"UNB has always been positioned very strongly in natural products," Dr. Battistini said. "And at the end of the day, cannabis is a natural product. There's a great number of those natural products coming from flora and fauna that have been used to create the drugs we have today to treat patients. So this is not new. And because of UNB's track record in natural products, this was a natural fit. About 70 percent of the medications that we use today for treatments have their source from nature. What is coming from the bottom of the sea all the way to trees and leaves and all these sorts of things. Marijuana is no exception."
While some might scoff at the new positions by calling them the "high" chairs, Battistini thinks that focusing on cannabis as a natural product will help break down stigmas and stereotypes. And combined with various other cannabis businesses operating in New Brunswick, the research chairs will turn the small Canadian province into a cannabis world leader.
"With these two chairs on top of everything, they will bring science and expertise in the field. I think putting these things together will position New Brunswick quite well across Canada and anywhere else."