There was a time not so long ago when the medical and research communities were highly skeptical of the potential medical benefits of cannabis. Last week, I was given hope that these dark times—which saw health care providers and policy makers ignore or otherwise dismiss the personal experience of tens of thousands of patients who found cannabis to be helpful—may finally be behind us.

The Arthritis Society, together with Licensed Producer co-sponsors Tilray, Peace Naturals Project, Aphria, Emerald Health, and MedReleaf, hosted a Medical Cannabis Roundtable in Vancouver on December 3 and 4. Among the approximately 50 attendees were many of Canada’s top cannabis and cannabinoid researchers, as well as representation from Health Canada, the Canadian AIDS Society, the BC Ministry of Health, the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, and many others.

This was a fascinating gathering, and I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the cutting-edge research and information shared during the first day of presentations leading up to the priority-setting sessions:

  • Keynote speaker Ethan Russo, MD (Phytecs) reported that British company GW Pharmaceuticals is planning a study of the cannabinoid CBDV in pediatric epilepsy. This and other studies will advance research into the therapeutic potential of lesser-known cannabinoids.

  • Health Canada announced that the number of prescribing physicians in Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) was growing by 6% per month and that the average authorization was 3 grams per day and declining, marking a significant shift since the previous regulatory regime, the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR). Under the MMAR, which expired on April 1st, 2014, the average authorization per day was 17 grams, largely due to the connection between the amount patients were allowed to use per day and how many plants they were permitted to cultivate.

  • M-J Milloy, PhD from the Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS highlighted research results suggesting that cannabis use may actually reduce the viral loads in people living with HIV/AIDS. He and his team will be conducting a small clinical trial using Sativex to see if they can track this phenomenon longitudinally.

  • Zach Walsh, PhD from the University of British Columbia’s Psychology department highlighted the self-reported benefits of cannabis use in the treatment of arthritis, including its efficacy compared to prescription drugs and positive impacts on quality of life.

  • University of Alberta researcher Keith Sharkey, PhD presented fascinating in-vivo data showing that in mice, “chronic THC treatment inhibits food intake and prevents high fat diet-induced weight gain and adiposity…potentially due to changes in gut biota” (please see slide below). This is supported by other recent epidemiological research suggesting that cannabis users have a lower body mass index.

  • I updated attendees on our the upcoming Tilray-UBC phase 2 randomized clinical trial on medical cannabis and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and presented preliminary findings from a Tilray patient survey conducted during July 2015, which found that a majority of Tilray patients self-report using cannabis as an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs (63%), alcohol (25%), cigarettes/tobacco (12%), or illicit substances (5%). The primary pharmaceuticals patients substitute for are opiates, making up over 30% of the total prescription drugs reported.

Tilray would like to thank Joanne Simons and the Arthritis Society of Canada for coordinating this valuable and productive event. The Arthritis Society will now develop and release a document about the research priorities identified through this 2-day consultation, and this may prove to be an excellent guideline to inform academic researchers, Licensed Producers, patient-centred research organizations, and hopefully federal and provincial funding bodies interested in adding to our understanding of medical cannabis. So while we admittedly have some more work to do before cannabis is fully accepted as a potential therapeutic option by health care providers, policy-makers and the general public, I believe this conference highlighted how quickly this change is taking place.