Like most other industries, research institutions have been forced to put their work on pause during the coronavirus pandemic. Between March and May, thousands of clinical trials around the world shut down in order to prevent the transmission of the virus, according to data analytics service GlobalData. Other studies have temporarily paused recruiting subjects since social distancing regulations prohibit in-person interviews.
But while many researchers have had to put their work on pause for the time being, cannabis researchers have largely kept their studies on track. Six clinical trials on medical cannabis have been halted or cancelled due to the virus, but another 179 trials are still actively recruiting patients, according to US-based ClinicalTrials.com, a registry of active research studies. In Australia and New Zealand, nine cannabis trials are still underway.
“Once lockdown measures start to ease, recruitment for these trials should be able to resume,” said GlobalData product manager Johanna Swanson to Stockhead. “If the measures do not change in the near future, companies should start to look at alternatives such as virtual or decentralized trials, if regulations allow.”
The global pandemic has reinforced the importance of allowing access to medical cannabis. Nearly every legal-weed state in the US recognized the necessity of allowing adult-use and medical marijuana dispensaries to remain open during the quarantine. And now that states are beginning to re-open businesses and return to work, health advocates are calling for increased access to medical marijuana to help deal with the mental health crisis triggered by the pandemic.
“The crisis is causing heightened anxiety and stress, with people feeling vulnerable and struggling with worries about contracting the virus, job losses and pay cuts, on top of juggling childcare, work, isolation, and general uncertainty about the post COVID 19 future,” Swanson explained to Stockhead. “The need for medicinal marijuana products may also increase due to heightened anxiety and stress. COVID-19 has placed enormous strain on the mental health of the general public.”
Clinical research trials are one of the most important factors involved in boosting the acceptance of cannabis as a valid form of medicine. Canadian researchers have found that cannabis could potentially treat the symptoms of COVID-19 infections, but in other countries, prohibition laws make cannabis research difficult to conduct. The US government officially provides legal weed to researchers, but the quality of this government-grown grass is so bad that most studies have rejected it outright.
To date, the US federal government has only approved one plant-based cannabis medicine, along with a handful of synthetically-derived cannabinoid medicines. In the UK, health officials have only approved two legal cannabis medicines since the nation embraced a limited medical marijuana program. In contrast, Israel has become one of the world leaders in cannabis research, thanks to the country's long-standing, progressive medical marijuana laws.