Researchers at the University of Alberta are about to launch three major research projects that will investigate whether medical marijuana can effectively treat multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, or Huntington’s disease.

These new studies will be done in partnership with Atlas Biotechnologies, a Canadian medical cannabis firm. Atlas will be investing around $300,000 to fund these three studies, which will take place over the next two years. The company will also supply individual cannabinoid compounds or blends custom-tailored to the researchers’ specifications.

“We’ve got to figure out the best combination of those compounds and how they’re actually working in people,” said Jeffrey R. Gossain, COO of Atlas Biotechnologies, to Folio, the University of Alberta’s news site. “A lot of people will tell you, ‘My mom had cancer,’ or, ‘My friend had an illness, and they took cannabis and it helped.’ But then for other people they don’t have as effective results.” 

“Part of the problem is that you don’t really know what product they took, how they dosed it or the combinations of chemicals in the product that helped,” Gossain continued. “It’s not as simple as just saying, ‘The plant’s got THC and CBD.’ You’ve got to get a lot more detailed than that… Our vision is to have a product that will actually help patients with these different ailments and make their lives better.”

In one study, researchers will examine whether CBD or other cannabinoids can help reduce pain experienced by patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In the second study, scientists will explore whether individual cannabis compounds can help reduce neuroinflammation and brain degeneration in patients with Huntington’s disease. The third study will investigate whether the neuroprotective properties of cannabis could help treat Alzheimer’s disease.

“Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and Huntington’s disease are all devastating conditions that don’t have a lot of effective treatments,” said Ross Tsuyuki, chair of the University of Alberta Department of Pharmacology. “If we find something, even if it works just a little, that could be an enormous advance for patients. But we have to do our homework first, and that is where we’re starting.”

“This collaboration marks some of our first steps on a long road of research discovery around medical cannabis,” Tsuyuki added. “A great amount of work needs to be done, and the sooner we get started, the better. Our team is exploring the areas that we think have the highest likelihood of success and we will follow where the science leads.”

Previous research has already found medical marijuana to be an effective treatment for multiple sclerosis and other spasticity disorders, but the effectiveness of cannabis for other neurodegenerative diseases is less clear. Scientists have found a link between Huntington’s disease and the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, however, suggesting that cannabis could indeed help treat this condition.

Another recent study has also found that the entourage effect created by combining THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids could help treat Alzheimer’s, but these new Canadian studies could help develop a specific blend that could potentially put an end to this widespread illness.