Switzerland Continues to Expand Cannabis Research Trials

Two more Switzerland cannabis studies greenlit by the Federal Office of Public Health.

One cannabis trial covering the areas of Bern, Lucerne, and Biel, and another in Geneva, were recently approved in Switzerland.

According to a press release on May 10, the SCRIPT study (safer cannabis research in pharmacies randomized controlled trial) that will cover Bern, Lucerne and Biel received approval from the both the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (BAG), the Cantonal Commission of Ethics and the Ethics Commission of Northwest and Central Switzerland.

Research will be conducted by the Bern Institute for Family Medicine at the University of Bern, which is expected to begin in October 2023-April 2026. The program expects the sample size number of participants to be 1,091.

The head of the SCRIPT study at the university, Reto Auer, explained that the goal is to examine “health and social effects” of a regulated cannabis industry at local pharmacies. “These elements are intended to make the products less attractive, especially for young people—we know that from tobacco prevention,” Auer said in a press release. “Our study therefore does not aim to legalize cannabis in the free market—but to be able to address the problems caused by prohibition and the black market and to test possible harm reduction approaches, as well as a strict control of supply and distribution use demand for cannabis.”

Auer added that education through pharmacy sales staff could help prevent harm caused by preventable harm from tobacco or other substances. “Dispensing at the pharmacy allows for better information and the possibility of reducing damage. Users often do not know what is contained in their cannabis. On the illegal market there is cannabis that contains synthetic cannabinoids, pesticides or fungi—some of which are very dangerous.”

Adults 18 years or older will be allowed to participate in the study. Half of participants will get to purchase cannabis during the first six months of the study. “The comparison of the fate of people in the two groups should make it possible to obtain study results that are as scientifically rigorous as possible,” the study announcement states

An additional study initiative called “The Cannabinotheque: a pilot trial for the regulated sale of cannabis in the canton of Geneva” was also approved by BAG. Beginning in June 2023 through June 2027, this study will “improve knowledge of the substance and its associated issues and concerns and may help reduce the health and social risks that drug consumption usually entails” with a sample size of 1,080 participants.

Switzerland lifted its ban on medical cannabis on June 2022, which paved the way for studies to begin. The country initially announced that it would be conducting a cannabis trial back in September 2021. Switzerland’s medical cannabis law went into effect on August 1, 2022. “Up to now, cannabis for medicinal purposes has not been allowed to be cultivated, imported or processed into preparations without an exceptional permit,” BAG announced last year. “Treatment of patients with cannabis medicinal products that were exempt from authorization was only possible with an exceptional permit from the BAG and only in justified cases. The demand for such permits has increased in recent years. This is administratively complex delays treatment and no longer corresponds to the exceptional character provided for by the Narcotics Act.”

The first cannabis trial in Switzerland, called “Züri Can – Cannabis with Responsibility” launched on March 23, 2023 and covered a total of 2,100 participants. “The City of Zurich Cannabis Study attaches great importance to the self-determination, responsibility and cooperation of all those involved,” the study website stated. “At all reference points, value is placed on individual advice aimed at reducing damage and promoting health. The respective reference points can contribute their different strengths in the area of ​​individual and public health protection.”

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