British Columbia

B.C.-based grower approved to export marijuana to U.S. for clinical trial

Tilray will be exporting capsules for a study examining potential treatment for adults with essential tremor.

Tilray will send capsules south for study on potential treatment for essential tremor

Tilray president Brendan Kennedy at the company's head office in Nanaimo, B.C. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

A B.C.-based grower is the first Canadian company with approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to export a medical cannabis product south of the border for use in a clinical trial.

The Nanaimo company, Tilray, and a researcher at the University of California San Diego believe it is the first export of a cannabis study drug from a Canadian company to the U.S., where marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.

"It's quite significant," said Dr. Catherine Jacobson, Tilray's director of clinical research based in California.

Approval took months

Tilray will be exporting capsules containing a cannabinoid formulation with the active ingredients cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for a study examining the drug as a potential treatment for adults with essential tremor.

Getting the approval was a months-long process and required an OK from the Food and Drug Administration and the DEA, said Dr. Fatta Nahab, a neurologist and associate professor of neurosciences at UC San Diego's medical school.

"This is an oral capsule formulation that has actual plant in it,'' he said. "It's a purified, medical-grade formulation, and to my knowledge, that's never been imported from Canada before.''

Tilray's product line includes capsules, oils and dried marijuana. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

While Canada has had a legal framework for medical marijuana for years and the country is preparing to legalize cannabis for recreational use next month, the drug's legal status south of the border is murky.

Several states have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use, but marijuana remains an illegal Schedule 1 drug under U.S. federal law.

Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memo that suggested that the federal government would not intervene in states where cannabis is legal. However, a U.S. senate bill was introduced in June that would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exempt marijuana activity that is legal at the state level.

The legal landscape for the drug south of the border is a hurdle for research as well.

Historically, the cannabis used in U.S. research was available through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and it was in form such as dried bud that needed to be smoked or vaporized, Nahab said. In those forms, it is difficult to control the dosage, he said, adding that NIDA does not have an oral formulation.

Tilray top choice

"We've got a set dosing, fixed, highly consistent, and so it's really going to help us advance the field much more,'' said Nahab, whose team selected Tilray from a shortlist of four companies.

Tilray will be exporting capsules containing active cannabis ingredients for a clinical trial into treatment for essential tremor. (Ron Ward/Canadian Press)

The study on essential tremor, a common neurological disorder which causes part of a person's body to shake involuntarily, was partially funded by Tilray and the International Essential Tremor Foundation.

The clinical trial on 16 adult participants diagnosed with essential tremor is expected to begin in 2019. It will take approximately one year to complete.

Tilray will not have any proprietary claim to the results and it is largely an unfunded study, Nahab said.

The next step is to receive an appropriate licence from Health Canada. Tilray says an application has been submitted, and they expect to receive it in a couple of weeks.

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