Professor Trevor Jones, Chairman of the European Medicinal Cannabis Association, tells MCN Digital Editor Stephanie Price about CBD quality standards, education and evidence-based policy.
Formed in November 2019, Brussels-based industry body the European Medicinal Cannabis Association (EUMCA) represents the interests of ethical companies working in the cannabis industry. Its vision is to help shape the regulatory and prescribing environment in the EU in order to ensure that vulnerable patients with unmet clinical needs have access to high quality and effective cannabis-based medical treatments.
Professor Trevor Jones, CBE, FMedSci, Chairman of the EUMCA, served for 12 years as a member of the UK government Regulatory Agency Medicines Commission, was Chairman of the UK Government Advisory Group on Genetics Research; is a visiting professor at King’s College, London; and was appointed to the World Health Organization Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health.
Professor Jones sat down with Digital Editor of Medical Cannabis Network, Stephanie Price, to tell us more.
The European Medicinal Cannabis Association
The not-for-profit EUMCA was founded by Bundesverband der Pharmazeutischen Industrie (BPI), Cannaflos, Comm-Op Europe, Ethical Medicines Industry Group (EMIG), IQANNA – the Pharmaceutical Division of Clever Leaves, Materia Ventures, MSSV, Panaxia, and Tilray.
Jones said: “There is no doubt that products derived from cannabis can provide therapeutic benefit but there are many cannabis products sold in Europe making spurious claims medically which could mislead patients. Further, many of the products are of very poor quality – some containing no amount of the ingredients listed on the product label, and some containing incorrect quantities.
“I met with some scientists in Austria and we worked together to publish papers on the variability of these products and on how some of the ingredients in cannabis could act together in concert – known as the entourage effect. This can truly make a really big impact in some diseases; but, importantly, I want more research to be done to provide the evidence to back it up.
“There are a number of companies involved in the medical cannabis industry and there is a huge range of products available; from nutritional products through to fully approved licensed medicines Some of the companies also grow the cannabis plants from which the key medicinal ingredients are extracted. Much of the regulation covering the use and quality of these products needs to be tightened up and harmonised. However, it is equally important that poor quality products are taken off the market and that the therapeutic claims made for the products do not mislead.
“Our objective is to get those regulatory and scientific (technical as well as clinical) aspects cleaned up so we can help get patients access to decent products.”
Advancing medical cannabis policy in the EU
EUMCA is aiming to advance medical cannabis policy in Europe in order to ensure Member States keep up with the science related to cannabis medicines and to clearly define what can be classed as a cannabis medicine.
Jones commented: “Member States have taken different regulatory approaches so far – sometimes due to political and social pressures. Cannabis is a sensitive area politically and to my mind, we have got to get beyond that and actually talk about the science and the value to the patient.
“I think that will require policy statements from Brussels about what actually ‘medicinal cannabis’ is. Some people talk about it as smoking cannabis, whilst others talk about it as the use of absolutely pure ingredients such as CBD or THC, or mixtures of the two (or more) compounds. We need to agree a definition of medicinal cannabis that can apply to consumer nutritional products as well as formal pharmaceutical medicines. and agree appropriate regulation for each type.”
He added: “There are a lot of traditional remedies available in Europe, whether from Europe or from India, China or elsewhere in the world. Regulations in Europe relating to these are well stablished. For example, you must not make a claim that is unsubstantiated, the quality has to be right, it has to be of good purity with no contaminants or pesticides. So, there is a history here in the field of herbal and alternative medicines that we can look as well as the regulations relating to medicines.”
Quality standards in the EU
EUMCA aims to improve the quality of medicinal cannabis products available across the continent; and has a regulatory group which holds regular information sharing and networking meetings for members working in regulatory affairs and related disciplines. The meetings focus on topics such as production, Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and pharmacovigilance. The association also hopes to introduce quality inspections across Europe.
Jones said: “We need to get quality standards in the EU right. My intention is to coordinate an expert working group agree a specification for key active ingredients. That would be the yardstick by which we and inspectors would judge the quality of products.
“We also want to make sure that any clinical studies are conducted in a way that ensures that we get accurate data from an adequate number of people related to well diagnosed conditions to make sure we are not just getting anecdotes. Beyond that, we want to actually work with regulators at Brussels as much as possible – and, if necessary, elsewhere – to see if we can harmonise some of the current very disparate regulations that surround cannabis products.
“We want to look at the way products are manufactured to ensure good quality and that the environment in which the cannabis is grown is properly controlled. We want to ensure companies produce quality products using quality data. The proper use of these medicinal cannabis products can help to spare health resources as some of these products may well be alternatives to existing pharmaceuticals – saving money for health services.”
Cannabis education for patients and doctors
Cannabis education for businesses, doctors, and patients will also be supported in order to advance understanding of the clinical benefits of medical cannabis. The EUMCA will be working with patient organisations to develop ethical and comprehensive educational materials, and to create a transparent and evidence-based knowledge exchange between stakeholders and patient organisations.
Jones continued: “Some of the companies that have started out in this market are consumer driven and don’t really understand what it means to make a quality pharmaceutical product. Education within the industry is vital. Equally, it is important that we help the patient understand, in an objective, non-hyped, and authoritative way about cannabis products.
“We also need further education for doctors. In the UK we have a website from the National Health Service (NHS) for pharmacists, doctors, and nurses, which tries to explain what medical cannabis is, what you can do with it, and so on. Across Europe it is very important to have a quality source of information where patients and healthcare professionals can go to, and can, if necessary, provide education courses. We want to create a cadre of people who truly understand where cannabis products can and where they should not be used.”
Professor Trevor Jones
European Medical Cannabis Association