U of A partners with Edmonton cannabis company to research treatment of neurological diseases

An employee checks plants in the "flowering" room at marijuana cultivation facility in Olds, Alta., on October 10, 2018. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press

The University of Alberta has formed a partnership with Atlas Biotechnologies, to explore and research using medical cannabis to treat a variety of neurological conditions, specifically multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s diseases.

Atlas, an Edmonton-based medical cannabis company, has donated $300,000 to fund three research studies at the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

“Because cannabis is now more accessible, people are touting it for all kinds of things, but without solid scientific evidence,” said Ross Tsuyski, chair of the U of A’s pharmacology department.

“But there likely are benefits for some conditions. We’re excited about the opportunity to do some real science around it,” Tsuyski said.

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While the two most well-known compounds in cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the plant can produce 500 different active compounds.

Researchers are hoping to focus on exploring the other compounds’ potential therapeutic benefits.

“We’ve got to figure out what the best combination of those compounds are and how they’re actually working in people,” Atlas COO Jeffrey R. Gossain said.

“A lot of people will tell you, ‘My mom had cancer,’ or ‘my friend had an illness, and they took cannabis and it helped.’ But then for other people they don’t have as effective results.”

“Part of the problem is that you don’t really know what product they took, how they dosed it, or the combinations of chemicals in the product that helped,” Gossain said.

The research will be spread out over a two-year period, and will aim to observe the effects of medical marijuana as a treatment.

Atlas was founded in Edmonton in 2015, with a focus on medical cannabis. It operates a 40,000-square-foot production centre outside of Edmonton.

The company has also partnered with Harvard University for a similar research program.

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