MedPharm Holdings, a company based in Denver, Colorado, plans to apply for a special research and development (R&D) licence to test the effects of THC – the psychoactive compound of the plant – and CBD  on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.8 million Americans have the disease, a degenerative brain disorder that affects a person’s memory and thinking skills.

While there are drugs that help ease symptoms, they do not change the course of the disease.

Albert Gutierrez, CEO of MedPharm, sees Alzheimer’s as “one of the biggest things that’s plaguing our country now and in the future.”

He says: “We haven’t yet tapped into what this plant can really do to help alleviate the symptoms.

“We hear a lot of anecdotal evidence as far as helping with epilepsy or helping with arthritic pain… now it’s time to put the cannabinoids to the test and really understand what cannabinoids and what doses and what delivery methods really help deliver that relief.”

More than 30 US states have legalised medical cannabis, but research into the plant has been stifled because it’s still a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.

Colorado first introduced R&D licensing in 2017 with the passage of House Bill 1367, but left it up to municipalities to individually decide if they would offer it.

So far only one company — MedPharm — has ever applied for an R&D licence, according to the Marijuana Enforcement Division.

MedPharm obtained its license from the state in 2018 and began growing cannabis and creating a variety of original drug formulas while waiting for Denver to open up city-level applications.

If approved, the new licence will enable MedPharm to administer clinical trials and develop drugs for them, including placebos.

During trials, MedPharm scientists plan to track how cannabinoids interact with neurological receptors through brain mapping and measuring cognitive abilities and patterns in patient demeanour.

They will also study how THC, CBD and other cannabinoids are absorbed and metabolised in the body.