SAN DIEGO (CN) – In a rare move, federal authorities will allow pharmaceutical-grade cannabis to be imported from Canada for use in a novel research study for treating tremors in adults, the University of California, San Diego, announced Tuesday.
Researchers at the University of California School of Medicine are partnering with UC San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research to study the effects of using an oral cannabis combination of CBD and low-dose THC as a treatment for essential tremor, a common movement disorder which affects an estimated 10 million Americans.
The study, set to kick off in early 2019 with 16 adult participants, will for the first time look at the cannabis compound combination as a treatment for the tremor disorder. Current treatment typically includes using “repurposed” medications originally developed for high blood pressure or seizures.
Essential tremor is a nervous system disorder which causes involuntary, rhythmic shaking of any part of the body, most notably the hands. The disorder is often confused with Parkinson’s disease and makes routine tasks, such as tying shoelaces or drinking water, difficult. It mostly affects seniors over 65, according to the International Essential Tremor Foundation.
UC San Diego neurologist and Professor Dr. Fatta Nahab said in a statement the study will provide “key insights.”
“If found to be safe and effective, cannabis would not only serve as an exciting new addition to the limited treatment options currently available for patients with ET, but it might also provide scientists with new insights on essential tremor.”
Since cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug, as defined by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, it is difficult for researchers to get access to it to study its effects on various health conditions. The oral capsules that will be used in UC San Diego’s study will be provided by Tilroy, a Canadian cannabis research company. The company had to get approval from the DEA to import the drug into the United States from Canada.
Tilray exports its medical cannabis products to 11 countries including Chile, Argentina, Germany and the United Kingdom.
CBD and THC are two of more than 100 chemical compounds, or cannabinoids, found in cannabis. The compounds interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system which is a network of neurotransmitters that regulate physiological and cognitive processes and response to stress.
UC San Diego researchers will evaluate the compounds’ various properties, including its pharmacology in the body.
Dr. Igor Grant, the director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, said cannabinoids “may provide a new therapeutic avenue” for the “difficult-to-treat” condition of essential tremor.
“This work expands CMCR’s commitment to develop an evidence-based approach in the area of cannabinoid therapeutics. The oral combination of CBD and THC is the first-of-its-kind to be studied and is especially interesting to CMCR,” Grant said.
Study participants who have been diagnosed with essential tremor by a movement disorder neurologist will be gradually administered an oral cannabis formulation with a 20:1 ratio of CBD to THC. They will complete a two-week period at the maximum target dose and be tapered off. After a washout period, the participants will cross over to the alternate study arm, according to UC San Diego.
The trial is expected to take a year to complete.