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A cannabis trial has left one brain dead and five ill

A French clinical trial involving a weed-based painkiller has gone seriously wrong

A clinical trial involving a cannabis-based painkiller has gone seriously wrong in France, leaving one man brain-dead and five others seriously injured. The French media is reporting that the trial took place at the Biotrial clinic, in Rennes in Brittany. Health Minister Marisol Touraine is currently speaking at a press conference on the unfolding situation, but has already stated that “a serious accident took place” and that all subsequent tests have been halted. 

A spokeswoman for the European Medicines Authority told me that responsibility for clinical trials lay in the hands of the French authorities. We have reached out to them for comment but they have yet to respond. According to publication OuestFrance Biotrial volunteers are paid between 100 and 4,500 Euros, depending on the length of the clinical trials. Until now, the company has never had a fatal accident. 

The growing market for medical marijuana has led pharmaceutical companies to experiment with new ways to use the cannabis plant medicinally. Nonetheless, clinical trials are usually extremely well-regulated and mostly safe.

In the UK, we haven’t had a drug trial disaster since 2006, when six men were treated for organ failure after taking part in an early-stage clinical trial for a new leukaemia drug. In a interview given after his recovery, one victim — who took part in the trial to earn money to buy a new laptop — said it felt like “his brain was on fire” and that his “eyeballs were going to pop out”. 

While it’s too soon to speculate about what might have gone wrong at the clinic in France, the case will certainly give those willing to loan their bodies to medical science for a bit of quick cash pause for thought.