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The Clinical Side of Cannabis with Sabrina The Research Slayer

Sabrina Ramkellawan wears many hats. She is a speaker, nurse, researcher and VP of Clinical Affairs at TerrAscend. With 20 years of clinical trial experience under her belt, Sabrina found her niche in the cannabis industry, helping LPs and clinics with the conduct of research studies. To date, she has worked on 6 prospective observational studies and 5 clinical trials on cannabinoid products. Naturally, Sabrina was part of our panel of experts at our last "Women and Cannabis" event in Hamilton. We sat down with her to talk about the clinical research side of cannabis and more.

The clinical side

Sabrina started in the cannabis industry four years ago as the VP of Operations at Apollo Applied Research. "I helped to build the clinic and I did oversee the clinical research studies including Large Scale Chronic Pain and PTSD research studies. I have since helped several companies including Licensed Producers with cannabis research." While working closely with patients, Sabrina was able to see first hand that many of them benefited from cannabis. However, there was still a lot of work to be done on the clinical research side. "I have continued working in the industry because I see that there is a lack of clinical research in this industry, and I want to bring my expertise and experience to help build a body of evidence around cannabinoids. I think that we have just scratched the surface of what we know and looking forward to more understanding and evidence."

A woman's perspective

The cannabis industry is a male-dominated industry like many others. Sabrina would like to see more women in executive positions, which would translate to more products and services formulated with women in mind. "I believe that the industry needs more diversity in general especially in key leadership positions. Our industry on the medical side is to essentially help patients that are looking for alternative options for their wellness. Women are natural caregivers, show empathy and they can bring the much-needed female perspective."

The post-legalization world

With legalization just three weeks away, Sabrina hopes to see a decrease in the stigma associated with it, especially with patients. She also thinks that it will provide an opportunity to gather more data about safe cannabis use and open up related discussions. "It will be interesting to see correlations on a national level such as opioid reduction, decrease in prescription medications and health outcomes. We have already seen that in US states that have legalized cannabis, a reduction in opioid overdoses by 20 to 30%. It will be great to see the development of medical products and devices as currently, the options are limited."

The Future of TerrAscend

As the current VP of Clinical Affairs at TerrAscend, a biopharmaceutical and wellness company, Sabrina is responsible for overseeing Solace Health Network and clinical research. She shared with us the company's plans in the areas of medical product development. "TerrAscend plans to look at medical product development through a joint venture with Ascendant Labs to develop advanced plant genetics to meet the medical needs of patients. In addition, we have Solace RX (a subsidiary company of TerrAscend) is our Drug Preparation Premises to allow us to deliver innovative pharmaceutical compounding and formulation services."

Cannabis and epilepsy 

A few weeks ago, Sabrina helped put on an event to highlight a Sick Kids Study about cannabis and epilepsy. "The study was done using CBD/THC oil in children with epilepsy (specifically dravet syndrome). Dravet syndrome is a catastrophic epilepsy syndrome impacting all developmental areas in kids including behaviour, cognition, motor function etc. Kids with dravet syndrome can have hundreds of seizures in a day which has a great impact on their quality of life."

Sabrina provided us with a quick summary of this study:
"The oil used was 50:1 CBD: THC. It’s the only study that has both CBD & THC. 47% of the children in the study had 50-90% seizure reduction 37% had >90% reduction and 37% <50 % reduction. Sick Kids has used what they learned in this study to develop a guideline for prescribing.

Interesting points of discussion at the event:

  1. Sick Kids decided to do this study as patients were already using cannabis for their kids, so they did this study to study the dosing and tolerability of cannabis. So, the parents and families' need for more information and wanting to try cannabis was really the catalyst for making this study happen. 
  2. The reality for many parents trying to help with getting cannabis for their kids is that they are not able to find a physician to authorize cannabis for their child. Some parents have had to go to non-legal sources and some even trying to get cannabis from the US (Ex: Colorado)."

Where to look for information

"This is tough as many articles are not necessarily based on medical evidence and research. For example, I have been in the position to have to manage patients & family member expectations after they have read and believe that “cannabis can cure their cancer”. The danger of this is when patients stop their treatment given by their doctor or specialist. In addition, some ask a friend or others on social media for cannabis recommendations. Everyone is different including severity of condition, combination of conditions, previous experience and exposure to cannabis etc. so just because a dosage or strain works for one person it does not mean it will work for someone else. I suggest patients go to a clinic that has the expertise and provides education to help patients with strain and dose selection as well as dosing titration. I oversee Solace Health Network and we do assist patients and can help answer questions. "

Sabrina's Favourite Women in Weed 

"This is very difficult as there are so many great women in weed." Sabrina does make a special mention of Annamaria Enenajor and Reena Rampersad who are part of an organization called Cannabis Amnesty. "I love the work that cannabis amnesty is doing and hope that criminal records will be expunged for the Canadians that have records for non-violent cannabis offences for possession. Most of the conversation has been around stock prices, pending legalization and this is an important issue that should coincide with the end of prohibition/legalization on October 17."

Follow Sabrina on Instagram and Twitter to keep up with her work.


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