Brishna Kamal and Daniel Lantela are quite confident that cannabis has unprecedented and unprecedented power to treat people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – and believe the newly published study helps prove that.
The Whistler Therapeutics study, published in Frontiers of Neuroscience in October, looked at the correlation between different cannabis chemotypes – the chemical compounds and the combination of compounds found in different cannabis strains – and their effectiveness when it comes to treating anxiety symptoms. The researchers were able to identify strains that helped reduce symptoms and others that had the opposite effect.
"For a patient who experiences decreased quality of life – from insomnia and irritability to muscle tension – because of this condition, it's a huge thing for them to be able to get through the day without getting anxious," says Lantela, co-founder and director for Whistler Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical and cannabis research company based in Whistler, BC
The company collaborates with universities, clinics and cannabis producers to determine which cannabis extracts work best for different conditions. With this information, the company is able to formulate different products that they can lead to chemical testing.
"We went into it because we believe in medical marijuana," says Kamal, president and co-founder of the company.
"Personalized health is emerging rapidly and cannabis is one of the factors that make it up. What comes down to now is finding out which line works best for which condition in that patient, "she says.
GAD may affect one in three in Canada
Kamal and Lantela chose to focus the study specifically on GAD because of its prevalence in Canadian society as well as the frequency with which cannabis is used as treatment. As an anxiety disorder, GAD is one of the most common – studies indicate that it can affect about three of the Canadian population in a given year.
People with GAD suffer from persistent, often disabling, anxiety about everything that could go wrong; their days are marked by hypothetical scenarios and they all have negative outcomes, including fear of losing a job, running out of money or getting seriously ill. This overwhelming anxiety can affect your work, your relationships, and your ability to deal with the obstacles of everyday life.
It is believed that the study with patients with GAD is one of the first – Kamal is unaware of any other published research that particularly analyzes the content of terpenes in different strains – to closely examine the different strains and the medicinal benefits they can offer. It's a relatively new area of research, she notes. "Most studies focus on THC and CBD, but it does not go as much into terpenes," she says.
Terpenes are the oils responsible for the flavors and aromas of a cannabis plant. There are more than 100, and many offer different therapeutic effects, from chronic pain relief to offering a treatment option for migraine sufferers. Kamal's view is that scientists are just beginning to understand the health benefits they can produce.
Most interviewees use cannabis to treat anxiety
For the study, Kamal and Lantela used data from an online survey of 90 questions involving 442 respondents living in Canada and were patients at Whistler Medical Marijuana Corporation. [WMMC], a certified organic producer of cannabis. The research was conducted by the WMMC, along with the results of the analytical tests of organically grown marijuana that was sold to the interviewees.
After receiving their medical marijuana from WMMC, a search link was sent to each patient via email, while samples of 21 different batches of dried cannabis – comprising three production records of seven different varieties – were analyzed to identify the levels of cannabinoids and terpenes in each lineage.
Participants chose between 27 strains and oil mixtures, ranking on a scale of 0 to 10 which they considered more or less effective in treating their anxiety. This was followed by rating the overall effectiveness of cannabis for managing your anxiety on a Likert scale – which offers a range of response options – of 10.
In all, about 60% of respondents reported using cannabis to treat anxiety symptoms, while 15% reported being diagnosed with a specific anxiety disorder.
Lantela says that one of the most significant findings was the correlation of terpenes and the selection of strains. It was also notable that all respondents rated cannabis as highly effective in treating their anxiety symptoms, and also identified which strains they considered to be more or less effective overall.
No single strain was overwhelmingly preferred by respondents, a finding Kamal says may indicate that cannabis treatment is highly individualized because people react differently to different strains.
"Patients should be able to choose between different strains to treat their GAD symptoms until they find a strain that works well for symptom control," he says.
"We are providing doctors and patients with more information so that they can make more informed decisions about treatment," Lantela notes. "Patients may even find they need to switch between different varieties – they can switch between them to avoid creating tolerance and keeping the dosage lower. Based on this research, this will help make this possible, "he adds.
Kamal and Lantela then want to isolate cannabis strains that may be related to anxiety symptoms (15% of patients interviewed reported that anxiety was a side effect of cannabis treatment). They would also like to take the study's findings to the next level of research.
"At the moment, these are just correlations that show that the two variables (patient preference and terpene or cannabinol content) follow a similar pattern," says Kamal. The next step, she says, is to look for causes in studies and molecular models, followed by clinical studies.
Although Kamal and Lantela are looking for clinical partners, the expectation is that it will take a few years to learn more about cannabinoids and their efficacy for different conditions, all dependent on funding, collaborators, and innovation within the cannabis industry itself.
Kamal sees no end to research possibilities and reports his focus on creating new innovative formulations and delivery methods that enable them to collect more concrete data in a clinical setting.
"We will always learn more and determine which products are more or less effective for different conditions, including anxiety," she says. In the long run, Kamal and Lantela are planning the initial submission of drugs to multiple conditions, including chronic pain, metastatic cancer, osteoarthritis. and anxiety.
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