First licensed R&D firm in Colorado to study benefits of cannabis for Alzheimer’s disease

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

The City of Denver is now presenting cannabis researchers with an opportunity to apply for a research and development (R&D) license. Although this type of licensing was initially introduced following the passage of House Bill 1367 in 2017, municipalities were allowed to opt-in or opt-out; Denver has officially opted in.

An R&D firm based in the city plans on becoming the first state-licensed facility of its kind to study the effects of cannabis for Alzheimer’s; the Marijuana Enforcement Division affirms that MedPharm is currently the only company to have applied for an R&D license in Colorado. 

With the city of Denver having recently jumped on-board, MedPharm is taking this opportunity to test the therapeutic effects of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and other plant-derived cannabinoids on patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s. CEO of MedPharm, Albert Gutierrez, says that Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most serious issues “plaguing” the U.S. He sees potential in using cannabis as a method of treatment, despite a lack of research into its medical efficacy. 

“We haven’t yet tapped into what this plant can really do to help alleviate the symptoms. We hear a lot of anecdotal evidence as far as helping with epilepsy or helping with arthritic pain,” Gutierrez said, adding that, “now it’s time to put the cannabinoids to the test and really understand what cannabinoids are and what doses and what delivery methods really help deliver that relief.”

Cannabis for Alzheimer’s: MedPharm received research licensing in 2018

As a result of Denver inviting researchers to apply for R&D licensing, clinical trials into the effects of cannabis on Alzheimer’s patients are set to commence in the very near future. MedPharm, which bagged its license to conduct cannabis research in Colorado back in 2018, got ahead of the game by kick-starting cannabis production before Denver began welcoming applicants; the company has developed a number of original drug therapies utilizing its own cannabis.  

In the event that MedPharm gains approval, it will be legally allowed to seek out patients for participation in medical cannabis clinical trials. The company would also be allowed to administer patients with its own drugs and placebos. By analyzing cognitive function and conducting brain mapping techniques, MedPharm scientists hope to better understand how cannabinoids interact with receptors. Additionally, they will determine the benefits of cannabis for Alzheimer’s by monitoring the way(s) in which cannabinoids are metabolized to produce their therapeutic effects.

Research into the benefits of cannabis for Alzheimer’s has been delayed

The Alzheimer’s Association says that as many as 5.8 million Americans suffer from the disease, which is characterized by memory loss, disorientation, impaired thinking, mood swings and changes in personality. Existing medications like Donepezil (Aricept), Rivastigmine (Exelon) and Galantamine (Razadyne) typically reduce the symptoms of this degenerative brain disorder, but the side effects and long-term results aren’t always desirable. 

Previous studies into cannabis for Alzheimer’s dating back to 2016 and 2017 were funded by the Alzheimer’s Association. However, the results have not yet been published. Research in other areas has also been stunted, due to the fact that cannabis is still a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. Notwithstanding, 33 U.S. states have legalized the plant for medical purposes; as of March 2020.

Phase one of the double-blind tests into cannabis for Alzheimer’s will launch in the second quarter of 2020, according to Gutierrez. Each trial is expected to last for approximately 6-9 months.