Alberta Innovates will be hosting its first virtual symposium on medical cannabis and psychedelic research on Oct. 26.
The symposium will showcase ongoing cannabis research projects that have been funded by Alberta Innovates, and give researchers, industry, and other interested parties a chance to share knowledge and look ahead to the future of the field. The deadline to register is noon on Sept. 30.
"I've had many industry folks ask, 'Are you doing anything in psychedelic research?' because that's a hot area, too," said Sunil Rajput, director of research for Alberta Innovates. "There are a variety of cannabis companies that are in the market right now as well as emerging psychedelic companies. So this is a place to try to understand what's happening in this space."
Included in the list of presenters is Leah Mayo, a human behavioural pharmacologist who was recently named the University of Calgary's first Parker Psychedelic Research Chair. Researchers from the mCannabis program will present on pre-clinical studies involving cannabis and pain, and members of the mCannabis.Realworld team are presenting on the use of real-world data to understand safe and effective cannabis use and how it can influence policy decisions.
Rajput said the focus is on cannabis use and pain specifically because pain is one of the leading causes of morbidity and disability on a global scale. One in five Canadians lives with chronic pain. With the related crisis in opioid poisonings, he said there is also an incentive to develop alternatives to existing pain management drugs.
Psychedelic research is still "very nascent," Rajput remarked, comparing it to the early days of cannabis studies. "There's a lot of interest when it comes to companies trying to start up and trying to get into this space, but there's very little evidence around psychedelic use."
Cannabis research may be more advanced, but even in a country where cannabis is legal, there are hurdles to getting projects approved and finding reliable supplies to study. Health Canada's stringent regulatory approach to clinical trials has become more flexible, Rajput observed, "but it's a slow process."
"I would say legalization happened quickly, but all the other pieces that are required to support research weren't quite in play. I think it was being considered, but it wasn't made easy for researchers to acquire materials and then actually get approval for ... clinical trials."
Despite the regulatory difficulty of working with psychedelics and cannabis, there has been growth in the clinical side of the field, such Zylorion's work with second-generation psilocybin compounds under the direction of Edmonton's Peter Silverstone. There is a lot of buzz around the medical, and market, potential of psychedelics and cannabis at the moment, and Mayo's recruitment for the psychedelic chair position is a sign of the province's interest in further developing those fields.
"What's hot right now, I would say, is the fact that we have a psychedelic research chair in the province," Rajput said. "(Mayo's) background is largely in the cannabis space. But based on her understandings of cannabis use, particularly in a clinical setting, she's applying that to psychedelics."