In a rare move, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration approved the importation of marijuana extracts from Canada for a clinical trial, a decision that paves the way for additional research into the potential medical benefits of cannabis.
New research into medical marijuana could persuade more U.S. physicians to recommend the drug, which could provide a boost to MMJ sales. The DEA’s decision could also open new business opportunities for Canadian and perhaps U.S. medical cannabis growers.
The University of California San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research announced Tuesday the DEA approved plans to import capsules containing CBD and THC from British Columbia, Canada-based Tilray to study the drugs’ effectiveness in treating essential tremors that afflict an estimated 10 million people.
Tilray, which is owned by Privateer Holdings, a cannabis-focused private equity firm in Seattle, trades on the Nasdaq as TLRY.
Currently, the only federally approved marijuana cultivator in the United States is the University of Mississippi, but the marijuana grown there is considered of poor quality compared to what is grown commercially in states where MJ is legal.
Therefore, some businesses and entities that have federal permission to research marijuana seek approval to import product rather than use what is grown at the University of Mississippi.
In 2015, the DEA granted permission to import marijuana to New Jersey-based Catalent. The company’s customers include GW Pharma, which is close to receiving federal approval for a marijuana-based epilepsy drug.
It’s not clear how many businesses, universities and other institutions have permission to import marijuana and marijuana products for research purposes.
In 2016, the Obama administration launched an effort to expand the number of growers allowed to grow cannabis for research and soon after began taking applications. More than 20 cultivators applied.
But since the Trump administration came into power, the program has stalled, and it’s not clear if any applications have been reviewed.
The UC San Diego study is expected to begin in early 2019 with financial support from Tilray and the International Essential Tremor Foundation.
It’s estimated the trial will take approximately one year to complete.
Associated Press contributed to this report.