Meet the Israeli-American Initiative That’s Cataloging Cannabis Research
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Cannabis research is an international endeavor which unites together scientists from almost every continent on the planet (sorry Antarctica) in pursuit of a common goal: working to better understand this incredibly complex plant. But cannabis science is also a fast-paced industry, meaning it can be difficult for this international network of researchers to stay on top the latest developments in their field.
Now, as a part of its mission to facilitate better international co-operation in cannabis research, the (AICA) is trying to rectify this; by building that showcases the cannabis studies and clinical trials that are underway in Israel right now.
To find out more about the database, and why it might be useful to both researchers and investors in the industry, we spoke to AICA’s chief operating officer, Sara Gluck.
Leo Bear-McGuinness (LBM): Can you please explain what the America Israel Cannabis Association is?
Sara Gluck (SG): That’s a great question. So, the America Israel Cannabis Association (AICA), is an organization whose mission is to facilitate collaboration between North American and Israeli cannabis professionals and companies.
We've pivoted a lot over the past few months. And what we've landed on is becoming a free resource for members in which we showcase brands and research companies – particularly in Israel and North America, though we don't necessarily discriminate.
And we provide a platform for companies to showcase what they're working on. So part of that is this research tracker.
At AICA, we really believe that Israel's greatest export is going to be knowledge, it's going to be the research. They don't necessarily grow the “dankest” cannabis, right? If you want really, really great cannabis, you go to California. But what Israel is really good at is the science behind cannabis. We wanted to provide a way to showcase that; and what better way than to tally up whatever clinical trials we know that are going on and share that with the world for free.
LBM: What's the real benefit for the companies and research initiatives in showcasing their work? And what about for the interested member of the public?
SG: So I think for companies that are showcasing what they are working on, they get eyeballs. We really do reach decision makers: around 75 percent of our audience are managerial-level or above. And 75 percent are also from North America, which we know will be the largest market, once it's fully open.
And then, in terms of becoming a free member [of the AICA], there's so much going on in the industry and I think it's paramount for professionals to stay up to date, even if they have no interest in doing business with Israel. They need to know what is going on from a scientific standpoint. I believe it really gives people an edge.
When everyone is talking about ‘recreation this’, and ‘getting high that’, I really see this industry in a number of ways. Of course, you have the recreational side, but you also have a medical side — and I'd even say a pharmaceutical side. So really, I see three different verticals within the same industry.
This pharmaceutical and medical vertical, if you will, has the opportunity to surpass any recreational components. And that's where Israel really comes into play, because it is a medical-use only country.
LBM: Are universities involved?
SG: Universities are more than often involved. What a lot of companies do here is, if they're privately held, they will link up with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem or the Volcani Center, in order to do better research together.
LBM: Why is having a database like this more of a benefit than, say, having a collection of press releases of finished research? Why is it important to know what's being researched at the moment?
SG: I think I try to think from an investor side as well. These are all clinical trials; a ‘Pfizer’ of the world or someone similar would love to know what is going on, so that they could get in during phase two or right before phase three, so that they could acquire a piece of that intellectual property. With press releases, they're great, but they happen so after the fact – we’re talking years after they start doing research.
The world moves fast, and we want to move with it. The cannabis industry, it's a roller-coaster.
Staying up to date, as it happens, is a real benefit in order to really showcase oneself as knowing what is going on across the world in this industry, especially on the medical and pharmaceutical side.
LBM: How do you make sure that it is as up-to-date as possible?
SG: So right now, we only have around thirty-five clinical trials on there, and we know that there are a lot more. So what we're doing is putting out a call to action to companies and researchers to send us what is going on.
Otherwise, we get all of our data from online government resources; it’s all public information. We're just doing the hard work of aggregating it, and we hope that companies will see what we're doing.
We'll keep adding on to what we already have. We started this little project under two months ago, so this is very new to us. We'll probably have multiple iterations of this, but right now, we're trying to update at least once a month.
LBM: When immersing oneself in all these studies, you must be getting a real good glance at what's going on in the medical research field. What do you think the big research areas will be in cannabis over the next 5-10 years?
SG: That's a good question. So right now we're researching everything from the monotonous to the mundane, so super rare forms of cancers to psoriasis.
Personally, I joined the industry because of medical reasons. I have psoriatic arthritis, which is an inflammatory autoimmune disease, and there's so many people around the world that suffer through similar things. We're talking about Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.
For example, Humira [a common treatment for inflammatory conditions] is the bestselling drug in the world. So I think that is a huge opportunity.
What I've been seeing so far is that there are really two reasons why people consume cannabis. The first is because of pain: they don't want to be in pain, whether that's physical, mental, emotional, etc. And then the second is disease: we want to be cured of our ailments, whether it is itchy skin or inflammation. So I really think that pain-related conditions and inflammation will be focused on, and we'll find out a lot of fascinating things in the next five to ten years through cannabis research. And hopefully then, we will have some cures for our aches and pains.
LBM: Is there anything else that's you'd like to shine a light on?
SG: Yeah, a lot of people don't really know that Israel was the birthplace of modern cannabis research. Israeli scientists have been researching this plant since the 1960s, and they truly do have it set up in such a way in which cannabis research is not just allowed, but is encouraged. The government allocates millions of shekels every year for the sole purpose of cannabis research.
That isn't to say that Israel is the only place in the world in which they're doing fantastic cannabis research, but it is the birthplace of cannabis research. And I think as cannabis professionals, we need to know and respect that.