ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday announced two separate efforts to pursue clinical trials on a cannabis-based drug that has shown promise in helping children who suffer from seizure disorders.
The first would pair a private pharmaceutical company with a Georgia Regents University professor and expand ongoing clinical trials of a product using cannabidiol, or CDB, a compound in marijuana that doesn't produce a high in users.
The second model would create a new clinical trial led by the university, with cannabis obtained from the National Institute on Drug Abuse research farm at the University of Mississippi. A new trial likely would take longer to begin because it requires more steps for federal approval, Deal said.
Neither option will mean quick relief for children whose parents have campaigned for a state law allowing them to use cannabis oil orally to help treat seizures. Georgia lawmakers ultimately failed to pass a bill.
Deal's announcement is the latest indication that Republicans are more inclined to support medical marijuana in limited forms and move away from the argument that all research is a slippery slope toward widespread marijuana use. Georgia and Alabama are among 11 states where lawmakers considered limited medical marijuana programs this year.
Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who sponsored a stymied bill this session, said support from the governor and the state university system could speed up approval of either trial by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"That can only help move the ball a lot quicker than it normally would," Peake said.
There is little scientific research on cannabis oil. Proponents say the product, available legally in Colorado, has helped children there.
Britain's GW Pharmaceuticals is considering Georgia Regents University as one of the sites to run a clinical drug trial of cannabidiol for treating forms of epilepsy in children, Dr. Yong Park of the university said.
Park, who specializes in pediatric epilepsy and treats patients at Children's Hospital of Georgia, said he knows parents will be eager to try anything that could help their children.
"Everybody's watching this one," Park said. He hopes to begin recruiting patients this year if the university is selected as a trial site.
A state-run drug trial could take longer. Both the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the FDA would have to approve parts of the plan.
Shannon and Blaine Cloud want their 8-year-old daughter, Alaina, to be a participant if either drug trial moves forward. Alaina has regular seizures caused by Dravet syndrome, a form of epilepsy. Shannon Cloud said the couple is aware that clinical trials can take a long time to get started. But they hope medication using cannabis oil could transform their daughter's life.
"It would actually get us to know who she really is," Blaine Cloud said.