December 12th, 2018

Cannabis Clinical Trials Struggle to Gain Momentum in the US

medical marijuana clinical trials

Medical marijuana trials are stalled in the US, but here’s how sponsors and CROs can be ready when those trials are finally possible.

Although medical cannabis is legal in 33 states, clinical research on cannabis-based treatments is largely stalled in the US, as conflicting state and federal regulations on marijuana prevent widespread use and keep clinical trials from getting off the ground. For example, though medical cannabis is legal in most states, there is a federal law banning doctors from prescribing cannabis-based treatments, and regulations may also vary from county to county even within states where marijuana is legal for medical use.

Meanwhile, other countries are pulling ahead in terms of research. The US company Cannabics Pharmaceuticals has begun conducting trials in Israel through a fully-owned subsidiary, with promising preliminary findings for a cannabis-based treatment for Cancer Anorexia-Cachexia Syndrome. Some studies have also gotten off the ground in Canada, and countries with cannabis-friendly governments such as Jamaica and Uruguay have far fewer research barriers.  

But even when regulations allow cannabis-based clinical trials in the US, there will likely be a number of significant obstacles for sponsors and CROs to overcome. Digital marketing will be a key tool to overcoming many of the potential challenges to getting a cannabis trial off the ground.

Overcoming Enrollment Barriers for Cannabis-Based Trials

Every clinical trial needs a relatively high number of patients, and most clinical trials have trouble meeting their enrollment goals, but those challenges are likely to be especially pronounced with a marijuana-based trial.

Undoubtedly, cannabis studies will have a higher bar to surpass than most other trials. They’ll be coming up against a medical community that may already be skeptical or even downright opposed, so their findings must be absolutely watertight. That means these trials will need an abundance of patients. However, any cannabis-related trial is likely to face all of the obstacles that other clinical trials face in meeting enrollment numbers.

It’s also more than likely that cannabis-based trials will face another hurdle: doctors’ reluctance to refer their patients. Whether due to anxiety over federal regulations, personal biases, or a reluctance to broach the potentially touchy topic with a patient, many doctors may hesitate to refer their patients to a clinical trial for medical marijuana. If clinical trials can’t rely on doctor referrals to meet enrollment goals, they must reach patients directly, and there’s no more effective or cost-efficient way to do so than with digital marketing.

Regulations may not have caught up, but patients are already actively searching for information about medical marijuana online. In fact, the average number of monthly searches for phrases related to medical marijuana tops 750,000. There’s clearly no shortage of patients who may be interested in enrolling in this type of clinical trial – it’s just a matter of making them aware of the trial. Medical marketers can target patients with demonstrated interest with search, social, and desktop ads, targeting specifically to age, region, and even medical condition. While cannabis clinical trials in the US may not be on the horizon just yet, it’s certain that digital marketing will play a large role when that day does arrive.