Blockchain tech is seen making cannabis clinical trials more secure and efficient.
In jurisdictions where cannabis is legal or soon-to-be legal, the general public is beginning to understand the benefits and medicinal potential of cannabinoids. Key to this process is the increased legitimacy of the plant, brought forward by the likes of cannabis clinical trials.
Today’s cannabis products are subject to a higher degree of scrutiny than ever before with each participating jurisdiction enforcing strict regulations for quality, safety and accuracy of dosing. The standards to which medical cannabis products must follow mirror those followed by traditional pharmaceuticals for decades, and so the role of a rigorous clinical trials process has become critical to the medical cannabis industry.
The global market for clinical trials is expected to reach 65.2 billion by 2025. Meanwhile, the market for legal cannabis is exploding. The global market for medical cannabis could reach $31.4 billion by 2021. Unsurprisingly, there is quite a bit of activity happening where these two industries intersect.
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We’re seeing a constant rush of new cannabis products hitting the market. As such, it is imperative that each new combination of cannabinoids and each unique delivery system is thoroughly understood before it reaches the hands of consumers. These trials are not just important to companies trying to set themselves apart in an increasingly crowded market, it’s also key to the industry’s ongoing pursuit to legitimize cannabis as mainstream medicine and to building public trust.
Complicating matters significantly is the void in research created by decades of prohibition. Today’s clinical researchers need to make up for lost time while scrutinizing this flood of new cannabis products. To do this efficiently innovation is required, and the solution could involve blockchain technology.
Challenges for cannabis clinical trials
The research void is a noted problem for the medicinal cannabis industry. Back in the days of the black and grey cannabis markets, a lack of any sort of accountability allowed unscrupulous sellers to rename strains and pass them off as something that they were not. There was no tracking of specific strains and no viable way to confirm that a particular specimen actually belonged to the strain under which it was labeled. Today, most cannabis strains trace their origins to the pre-legal days. As a result, before a product can be approved for the market, it must be thoroughly studied within established clinical trials to understand how it might interact with a given patient.
Cannabis clinical trials are tasked with developing an understanding of how one of the virtually infinite possible combinations of cannabinoids will affect the variety of afflictions that can be treated with cannabis. This is a massively time-intensive process.
Adding to the issue is the fact that the extensive amount of data generated by these trials is compartmentalized in ‘silos’. Within current storage systems there is very little interrelationship between these silos of data, meaning that data that exists and could be valuable to another is often inaccessible. The industry is in need of a way to share data in a way that allows clinical researchers to get this all important job done more efficiently.
While the ability to share relevant data is important, it’s also essential to protect patient information. These trials usually involve highly sensitive personal information from participants and while it’s important that relevant data be accessible to clinical researchers, it must remain secure. Patient attrition is an issue in the clinical trial industry as a whole and one of the common reasons for patients dropping out of trials before completion is related to concerns of privacy. Any advancement in data sharing in the clinical trial industry must account data security.
Blockchain technology is disrupting industries across the board, including the market for cannabis clinical trials. Put simply, blockchain is a real-time ledger that allows digital information to be tracked and stored securely. Data is stored on multiple computers, or ‘blocks’, in a network. The data contained in each block is verified by the previous block so no one user can alter information and every transaction can be seen by all users on the network, ensuring transparency. Applied to clinical trials, blockchain offers a secure and efficient way to share important data.
The current challenges for contemporary clinical research are reproducibility, data provenance, data sharing, personal data privacy and patient enrollment. To help address these challenges a blockchain data ledger can be incorporated, providing participants with control over and trust in the data and its integrity. Smart contracts can also play a role, offering secure patient pre-screening and onboarding, alongside other blockchain components.
The increased security and validity of information under blockchain means that trial participants could be able to better trust that their information will be kept private, thus reducing patient attrition in clinical trials.
There’s a wide range of other potential benefits offered by blockchain in the clinical trial space. Because of its permanent and interconnected nature, blockchain can be used to ensure the validity and accuracy of collected data without the worry of inaccuracies caused by error or fraud on the part of any individual user. This will lower the rate of non-reproducible data, ensuring more accurate trials and more reliable data.
Blockchain can be used to keep track of specific cannabis specimens by logging any information captured about the specimen throughout the growth cycle. This creates an immutable record so that clinical researchers know the entire history of the plant, providing certainty that it came from a licensed producer using the right genetics under the right conditions. Permanent blockchain records can remove any uncertainty from the trial process and ensure accurate results.
Blockchain players in the cannabis space
CBDS Health Sciences is working to bring blockchain into the cannabis clinical trials space through seamless integration of blockchain technology into its existing virtual clinical trials platform. The platform utilizes unobtrusive Internet of Things (IoT) sensor technology to capture vital patient data 24/7 while they continue their day-to-day lives. The addition of blockchain adds identity and data validation, ensuring the accuracy, validity and history of all data captured and reported during a trial. For cannabis clinical trials, CBDS combines its platform with the GrowBuddy cultivation platform, creating a comprehensive Botanical to Pharmaceutical platform for the cannabis industry.
Global Cannabis Applications (CSE:APP) is another blockchain player in the cannabis space. Global Cannabis has developed a series of blockchain-based mobile applications that reward users with digital tokens for sharing information with researchers. The system then uses AI to compile that information into usable data.
India Globalization Capital (NYSE:IGC) is using blockchain for product identification assurance. Through blockchain the company plans to be able to be able to better identify and label the active compounds in their cannabis products aimed at patients with Alzheimer’s disease in order to provide a more predictable and therefore safer product.
Blockchain is being applied across the legal cannabis industry in a range of ways and the clinical trial space could prove to be one of the most important applications for this revolutionary technology. Blockchain provides solutions that will make the all-important trial process faster and more accurate, allowing the cannabis industry to become even more innovative and, most importantly, more trustworthy in the eyes of the general public.
This article was originally published on the Investing News Network in July 2018.