The National Institutes of Health has awarded the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) a US$16 million grant to lead a study testing a combination of THC and CBD as a possible treatment for people in their final days.

Medical doctors Olga Brawman-Mintzer and Jacobo Mintzer, who conduct research at MUSC, will lead the 15-site clinical trial testing the cannabis compounds in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a good fit for the study because the disease affects a huge number of people – about 5.8 million Americans – and causes distress and agitation later in life in about a third of all cases.

Mintzer said: “It was an issue that was so close to everybody’s heart that every institution was willing to play along and work hard to try to make it real. It’s a locally led effort by these three institutions that will bring together the best minds from all around the country.”

Preparation for the national study has involved multiple programs at MUSC, including the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the College of Medicine and the College of Health Professions. The researchers have worked with colleagues to determine where to get the medications, how to make sure the patients are getting them and what technology is needed for the large trial.

Mintzer said they won’t be able to get people into the study until late next year at the earliest.

“The reason is that this is the first study ever done in this population. There’s never been a study on Alzheimer’s patients in the late stages of life. It’s also one of the few randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled trials ever done in people who are eligible for hospice care,” he added.

But it’s time for science to tackle the issue, he said. 

“It’s a moment in the person’s life that we share a lot of ignorance and very little knowledge about. We need to obtain scientific knowledge, because dying is a condition that we all will confront sooner or later,” said Mintzer. 

The trial is dedicated to the late Libby Soffar, 89, a family friend of Brawman-Mintzer and Mintzer who was suffering from terminal blood cancer when she began receiving hospice care to try to help her transition from life to death as comfortably as possible. Libby’s experience inspired the Life’s end Benefits of CannaBidiol and TetrahYdrocannabinol, or more simply, the LiBBY trial.

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