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It has been described as “activism with a twist,” “a great adventure” and “a sporting triumph.” The Medical Cannabis Bike Tour is a non-profit organization riding to change the way marijuana is perceived in Europe.
In November, it handed over 100,000 Euros to fund a groundbreaking clinical study into the use of cannabinoids (THC and CBD) in the treatment of brain cancer (glioma) patients. Scheduled to begin in mid-2015, these medical trials involving 30-40 patients will be conducted in a handful of Spanish hospitals.
Not bad for a bike ride that began in 2012 with only two participants!
Started by Luc Krol, the owner of Dutch seed bank, Paradise Seeds, and Matej Snail, who runs Slovenian accessory supplier Custom Rolling Papers, the bike ride was a response to the frustration they felt at the lack of medical research into the medicinal properties of cannabis.
Both men had been personally affected by cancer (Luc lost his mother, and Matej had recovered from it) and were interested in the work being carried out by scientists at Madrid’s Complutense University, where doctors Manuel Guzman and Guillermo Velasco have been studying the effects of cannabinoids on cancer cells since the late 1990s.
Their research suggests that, when used in combination with other anti-cancer agents, cannabinoids can reduce tumor size and even kill cancer cells. At present, the only clinical study into this area is being conducted by British based GW Pharma, producer of oral spray Sativex. It was decided that the bike tour money would be used to help the research program of these scientists.
MCBT founder, Luc, takes up the story.”The first year Matej and I did the bike ride we dreamt of raising money for independent research – research that would profit science and not a pharmaceutical company. We were inspired by stories, such as Rick Simpson’s experience, and asked ourselves why are governments not funding more research into cannabis? So we decided to do something about it.”
A year later, the two returned to Spain with 20 riders and volunteers and rode from Madrid to Valencia, raising €50,000 through sponsorship from businesses in the cannabis industry. In 2014 they returned to Spain, riding from Valencia to Barcelona.
“This time there were over 50 riders and volunteers,” grins Luc. “They came from all over Europe, the USA and Canada. It was fantastic – like an international force with beautiful family vibes! We had riders from the industry, but also people who had lost their friends or relatives from cancer. We had a lot of sponsorship interest and raised 100,000 Euro.”
The fact that the bike tour uses sport to promote cannabis has proved to be surprisingly successful. When taken as a snapshot, the peloton of cyclists, wearing matching bright yellow cycling shirts, resembles a traditional image of sport. It is only when you get closer and see the logos of the sponsors and the cannabis leaves that people realize the cannabis connection. It challenges traditional negative perceptions.
That challenge to the perception of marijuana extends to the clinical trials the MCBT is sponsoring. With funds made available for more research, the scientists from the Complutense University were able to approach GEINO (the Spanish group of Neuro-oncological investigation) and propose a clinical study to test their research with cancer patients. Preparations are well underway, and the trials are expected to begin next Fall.
GEINO chief Investigator, Dr. Juan Manuel Sepúlveda, told a press conference in Madrid, “The Medical Cannabis Bike Tour has provided a new window. For the first time cannabinoids will be used as a first line therapy treatment. We are confident that the trial will demonstrate cannabinoids are safe for glioma patients and hope to prove their ability in reducing tumor size.”
It is the start of a long process, one that could take years but that has the potential to support anecdotal evidence of cannabis playing a role, as part of a wider treatment program, in fighting cancer. As Dr Velasco says, “Anecdotal evidence may suggest something is happening, but it is only through scientific evidence that we can confirm this in a way that medical authorities will appreciate.”
It will cost in the region of €300,000 to complete these trials. In June, the medical cannabis Bike Tour takes to the saddle once more. Billed as “MCBT15 – The Northern European Adventure,” the tour will ride 420km over 3 days, passing through Belgium, Germany and Holland to arrive in Amsterdam. Says Luc, “In 2015, we hope to have 100 riders! We are on a great adventure. Come and join us!”
The Medical Cannabis Bike Tour is currently looking for sponsors, riders and volunteers for the next installment. More information is available at their website. Interested readers can also follow them on Facebook.
Photo Credit: The Medical Cannabis Bike Tour