The National Health and Medical Research Council gave Australian cannabis research a major shot in the arm this week, with the council awarding the research body $2.5 million for research.
The funds will be used to establish the Australian Centre for Cannabinoid Clinical and Research Excellence (ACRE), a national center to coordinate research into medicinal cannabis use. ACRE will focus on investigating quality and safety issues, including growing methods and safe formulation of plant material into medicines, and will eventually develop clinical trials.
Researchers and clinicians from all over Australia will be involved in the national effort, which will be based at the University of Newcastle and University of Wollongong.
Federal funding for the new center was announced by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Oct. 11.
In Australia, access to cannabinoids for medicinal purposes have been difficult due to restrictive licencing and import laws, along with a lack of ready-to-prescribe cannabis-based medicines for specific medical conditions. ACRE hopes to change that.
The center will be co-led by University of Newcastle professor Jenny Martin and professor Nadia Solowij of the University of Wollongong School of Psychology and the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute. Together, the two aim to make Australia’s eastern seaboard a hub for cannabis research.
“In many Australian states, people can now access cannabinoids for medicinal purposes under the supervision of a medical specialist, but it can be difficult to source reliable, consistent and suitable products that are known to be safe and effective for specific conditions,” Martin said.
“Recent legislation has improved the situation,” she added, “but appropriate research is needed to enable evidence to guide doctors on products and dosages that are safe and effective.”
ACRE will undertake medical cannabinoid research, consolidate existing data into guidance, and link health outcomes from people currently accessing local and imported products to guide plant growing and product formulation into appropriate medicines, according to a press release.
The center’s investigators will link scientific research teams with specialist and national primary health care infrastructure to support information sharing, national monitoring, and linkage with government. They’ll also be training a new medical research workforce in the field and conducting basic research leading to clinical trials.
“At this critical juncture, where legislation around cannabis and cannabinoids is rapidly changing in Australia and worldwide, there is tremendous opportunity for Australia to establish world leadership in cautious and appropriately balanced management of the implementation of medicinal cannabinoids into specialist and primary health care settings,” Solowij said.
The announcement comes as New South Wales’ conservative government has taken a hard stance on cannabis, moving to block laws decriminalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis for those suffering from serious medical conditions.
Despite the government’s stance, NSW is becoming one of the greenest states in Australia, attracting significant investment in medical cannabis industry and research. Already home to the $33.7 million Lambert Initiative at the University of Sydney, the state also recently attracted an enormous investment from Canadian firm PUF to build the largest legal cannabis facility in the southern hemisphere.
As the economic, technological, and medical benefits of becoming a hub for medical cannabis start to flow in, the NSW government may find it more difficult to maintain its hard-line stance cannabis.