Juxtaposing Medical Marijuana Research and Trends in America, Israel, Italy, Australia, and the European Union

An International Perspective on American Medical Marijuana Studies.

European union iStock / AdrianHancu

United States of America

American research of medical marijuana is well-funded, but methodologically limited and less sophisticated when compared with members of the international research community, including Israel and Italy. The United States’ contributions to the international medical marijuana landscape have been constrained. FDA limitations have stifled clinical trials (with human subjects) and so the international community has generated the majority of scientific research concerning, for example, the endocannabinoid system. Dr. Yu-Fung Lin, Professor of Physiology and Membrane Biology at UC Davis, developed her own unique cannabis coursework for medical students. She told Wikileaf that “building coursework concerning chemicals found in the plant, the medical chemistry of THC and cannabinoids, and the endocannabinoid system requires heavy reliance on European studies”. The iconic Dr. Raphael Mechoulam said to Rolling Stone, that “the lack of clinical work in the U.S. is really a shame”.

As recently as April 2019, Attorney General Anthony Barr expressed his reluctant acceptance of a possible coming switch on the federal stance towards cannabis and particularly medical cannabis. Barr said that he personally supported a ban against federal legalization, but that, should the people will it, the end of federal prohibition would be preferable to the current state-by-state transition.

As the medicinal qualities of CBD and medical cannabis are no longer in question, it’s likely that a tide-turning referendum, like the STATES act or similar legislation, would draw support to either:

A. Reschedule cannabis or a particular cannabinoid (THC and/or CBD) from DEA Schedule I.

or

B. Empower states to distance themselves from federal law. This coming shift would allow the United States to join its already-active European allies once more in the good fight against suffering.

medical marijuana research

Israel

In the 1960’s, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam became the first scientist to isolate Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In appropriate cannabis-humor fashion, he was chided for not asking his university to help procure cannabis for his study, but instead petitioning the Israeli Security Forces to provide him with confiscated hashish, which they did. Israel began the government-sanctioned study of cannabis in the early 1990s, years before Europe and America.

Israel is now an international leader in cannabis research and business, having developed sophisticated interconnection between public and private entities after decades of association. In 2017, the Israel government funded the establishment of the Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research (MCCR) at the School of Pharmacy of the Hebrew University. The MCCR employs 27 scientists conducting research on the plant in 20 medical arenas, including Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Neuroscience, and Plant and Science Genetics.

Italy

Italian researchers are among the most distinguished medical cannabis scientists in the world. Italy first legalized medical cannabis for therapeutic usage in 1998, and then for broader medical application in 2007. After a decade of minimal access, the Italian government passed Law Decree S.2947 in 2017, essentially nationalizing exclusive grand-scale production and distribution of medical cannabis for consumption and research.

In Decree S.2947, the Italian government announced its intent to “promote scientific research on possible further uses of medical cannabis”. To that extent, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (ITT), Italy’s top research institute with an annual budget of 90€ million, has begun research on the endocannabinoid system. Italy employs some of the world’s top Endocannabinoid researchers in ITT. Dr. Daniele Piomelli, Director of IIT, was an awardee of the prestigious Mechoulam award in 2017.

Each year, the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) awards the Mechoulam Award for Outstanding Contributions to Cannabinoid Research to a scientist from the international community. 

Mechoulam Award Recipients…

2018 — Andreas Zimmer — Germany
2017 — Daniele Piomelli — Italy
2016 — Mauro Maccarrone – Italy
2015 — Mary Abood – USA
2014— Beat Lutz — Germany
2013 — Ben Cravatt — USA
2012 — Cecilia Hillard — USA
2011 — Patti Reggio — USA
2010 — Gerard Le Fur — France
2009 — Ken Mackie — USA

Dr. Vincenzo Di Marzo is another decorated scientist working actively in the Italian research community. In the late 90’s, Di Marzo performed important early mapping of the many bodily connections within the endocannabinoid system, little of which was previously understood. He was awarded the Mechoulam award in 2007. Di Marzo was the most cited author in the field of Pharmacology and Toxicology In 2010 and was awarded “top scientist of the decade for pharmacology and toxicology” by Thompson Reuters. Di Marzo is currently Director of Biomolecular Chemistry of the National Research Council in Naples, Italy.

Australia

The city skyline of Sydney, Australia. Circular Quay and Opera House.

iStock / PhotoAllel

For Americans, it might come as a surprise to see Australia emerging as a hot market. Greg Hunt, Federal Minister of Health, mused that Australia might soon become the “world’s number one medicinal cannabis supplier.” Medical cannabis legislation passed in Australian Parliament on February 29, 2016, for the purposes of treatment and research. Clinical trials conducted in Australia are subject to regulatory controls developed and enforced by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), to control the flow of cannabis. Australia uses a national licensing and permit scheme allowing, separately, sale or researching of cannabis.

Licenses Granted (As of Jan 2018):

Medicinal Cannabis Licence (cultivation and production): 26

Cannabis Research Licence (cultivation and production): 15

Following legalization, the National Health and Medical Research Council granted $2.5 million for the development of the Australia Centre for Cannabinoid Clinical and Research Excellence. The initiative is not impressive for the funding, but for its mission to “develop a national research and policy framework for medical cannabinoids and to make better use of existing cannabinoid clinical and research.”

At the University of Sydney, the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics was built on a massive $33.7 million donation from Joy and the Lambert family. The Lambert Initiative was inspired by the struggles of young Katelyn Lambert, granddaughter to the donating party, and her struggles with a rare form of epilepsy.  The center provides research toward the development of cannabis-based medicines and is Australia’s biggest private cannabis research firm. Dr. Iain McGregor, Director of the Lambert Initiative, is an active researcher publishing on epilepsy and the the entourage effect.

The Emerging European Union

Drone shot aerial view of waving european union flags located in a roundabout traffic circle. The scene is located in Sofia, Bulgaria (Eastern Europe). The picture is taken with DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone / quadcopter.

iStock / Media Trading Ltd

Both the United States (pop. 325 million) and the European Union (pop. 510 million) are hindered by major procedural roadblocks. Bureaucratic delays have afforded smaller countries and private entities opportunities to establish leadership roles in the medical cannabis community. Whereas the United States has an infrastructure that will be super-charged by federal legalization, the EU lacks multi-national research infrastructure that would be able to capitalize on widespread funding opportunities. Some non-national private firms exist which might be candidates for EU multi-national investment.

Due to the easy travel between EU member nations, it is generally assumed that efforts (call it a war on drugs) to stymie illegal cannabis trade would be ineffectual. The current policy, established by the EU’s 1988 Convention, maintains that personal cannabis use is a criminal action —and EU member countries theoretically abide. The reality is that medical cannabis is now legal in 22 countries in the region and recreational cannabis is legal in 12 countries.

After a crucial commission report on cannabis by the World Health Organization (WHO), on Feb 18, 2018, an EU resolution among Members of European Parliament (MEPs) appears to have been the breaking point, where a general consensus supporting medical cannabis was established. In January, 2019, the EU began outlining sweeping regulations in support of medical cannabis across the Eurozone.

The Data

To glean insight into the balance of global research on medical cannabis, publications are categorized and tabulated according to publishing scientists’ national affiliation. Publications are hyperlinked. Cannabis research is extremely nuanced, with subject experts residing in countries all over the globe. Our data does not necessarily reflect expertise or authority, the but only raw number of publications.

(Country/Publication Credits)

Publishing Entity: International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines

Publication: Clinical Studies and Case Reports (2017 – 2019)  

USA — 20

UK — 11

Europe — 5

(Germany — 2)

Publishing Entities: International Cannabinoid Research Society + International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines

Publication: Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research Quarterly

USA — 9

Europe — 7

(Italy — 4)

Publishing Entities: Swiss Task Force for Cannabinoids in Medicine + International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines

Publication: Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids

Europe — 6

USA — 5

(Switzerland, Finland — 2)

Juxtaposing Medical Marijuana Research and Trends in America, Israel, Italy, Australia, and the European Union was last modified: by
P. Gotti
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P. Gotti is the ghost of a man who once sailed the seven seas. His spirit animal is the weasel: ferocious, nimble, simple. His favorite past-time is writing for Dope Magazine, which has published his musings on subjects such as the world of LARP, where he once served with the Aratari Guard under the distinguished Graymael, and as far into the netherverse as alien communication. He has lived for over 2000 years and you can reach him on Facebook. He enjoys only the freshest buds.