Updated on December 19, 2018.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Oxford University and Kingsley Capital Partners are teaming up to develop new medical treatments from cannabis. The research project aims to understand the therapeutic properties of cannabis and apply them to both chronic and acute conditions.
The initial investment from the private equity company in this research project, £10 million or about $12.23 million, will come through Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies (OCT), a new biopharmaceutical company. The partnership will leverage expertise in immunology, cancer and neuroscience from Oxford University. The goal is to develop new treatments for cancer and inflammatory diseases as well as the severe pain associated with them.
Researchers will begin by looking at the elements naturally occurring in cannabis — referred to as cannabinoids — and how they function at a very basic level. How these elements interact in their natural environment and how they can potentially operate within the human molecular structure will also be investigated.
Medical marijuana is predominantly used to relieve pain and other severe symptoms of disease sufferers. The Oxford research project hopes to explain how marijuana produces these benefits. This research project is the first of its kind and scope undertaken on the medical effects of cannabis.
Significance of the Oxford Study
Medical marijuana is not currently legal in the United Kingdom, and the whole world will be looking for results from this research project to help forward the cause of legalizing medical marijuana use. With Oxford University’s involvement, the study is already getting significant attention.
The results of the Oxford study will be medically significant, but there is also a public relations advantage to this project. The interest of Kingsley Capital Partners in a project like this will draw investment interest from other venture capitalists for similar projects — the theory being that if such a prominent investor is jumping into this industry, it is probably a good risk.
Other big names are lending mainstream credibility to the study here in the U.S. For instance, Patrick Stewart, of Star Trek and X-Men fame, endorsed the project. Stewart also uses medical marijuana for osteoarthritis in his hands.
Brief History of Marijuana Research
Since the criminalization of marijuana in the U.S. in 1937 and the subsequent ban of its medical use in 1941, legal marijuana production was restricted to government authorized contracts. Research on marijuana, its effects on humans and its potential medical uses was limited to its psychotropic effects.
For decades, marijuana was treated as a recreational substance of abuse and remains classified as a Schedule I drug. Most research prior to the 1990s focused on addiction instead of potential medical benefits. In the intervening years, medical science learned more about brain chemistry, what addiction is and how pain is felt.
The Oxford study stands out as the first comprehensive attempt to apply current knowledge of brain chemistry and systems to cannabis. It will not focus just on the psycho-active elements in marijuana, but it will delve further into the rest of the plant and how the other elements can affect brain chemistry to relieve pain and nausea and comfort people who suffer from disease.
The Future of Medical Marijuana
The Oxford study will open up a whole new area of investigation for cannabis and its medical applications. First, it should provide scientific evidence that is needed to the legal changes that are beginning to take place across the country and in other parts of the world. The information gained from the study will also help push the medical use of cannabis beyond just symptom relief toward actual disease treatment.
Research results from such a prestigious institution will lend credibility to the medical marijuana movement. Even the fact that Oxford believes it is worthwhile to study the effects of marijuana and to devote their resources to this project increases the notoriety of marijuana as a legitimate medical treatment.
For people suffering from serious neurological disorders, medical cannabis already represents hope for the future. The Oxford study will increase the profile of medical marijuana treatments and make more people who are suffering aware of the possibilities of relief.
The Oxford study is also likely to open up some new areas of application for medical cannabis use. All of the elements of cannabis are not fully identified and mapped yet. Completing the list of cannabis ingredients and how these compounds affect brain chemistry will just increase our knowledge of how cannabis can be used to treat patients. The list of conditions that cannabis can treat will likely grow.
Research Spawns More Research
Decades of severely limited research brought us to a point where thousands of people benefit from the medicinal properties of cannabis. Meanwhile, millions of people continue to suffer with diseases and conditions we cannot cure. Accelerating medical research is likely the path to more healing.
Marijuana research in the U.S. is restricted by the FDA that controls access to marijuana for research purposes. The Oxford study might motivate the FDA to loosen their grip on this potentially life-altering botanical commodity. There are certainly many angles of medical marijuana use that could be investigated and potentially leveraged for patients.
Medical universities in the U.S. could follow Oxford’s lead and jump into medical marijuana studies. There is a need for scientific data on cannabis for both legal and medical purposes. Medical marijuana studies will likely open up a new area of pharmaceutical development. Cannabis also represents an endless opportunity to develop medically specific hybrids and marijuana products for the commercial market.
If the Oxford study can motivate the FDA to loosen regulations on marijuana, at least for research purposes, more universities would probably undertake studies of their own. More research could lead to a better understanding of the true potential of cannabis to relieve suffering. There is still a lot to learn about how medical marijuana can make life better for millions of people.