An Interview by Tim Lay. He is a freelance journalist who became involved with the bike tour after losing both parents to cancer.
A rather unique medical cannabis trial began in the Fall of 2023, the product of a ten year fundraising initiative powered by cycling enthusiasts drawn from the cannabis community. In 2013, Luc Krol, the owner of one of the world’s oldest cannabis seed banks, Paradise Seeds, launched a ground breaking charity, using sport to raise money for independent medical research into the potential of THC and CBD as a cancer treatment.
Tim Lay: Hi Luc, you have been in the cannabis industry for many years. Do you want to tell us a bit about your background ?
Luc Krol: I am the founder and owner of Paradise Seeds, one of the original Dutch cannabis genetics seed banks, and its LP subsidiary, Paradise Phytogenetics. I began breeding cannabis in the late 1980s in Amsterdam, building a collection of different landrace genetics collected from travellers in the city’s coffeeshops. I was passionate about breeding and this led me to set up Paradise Seeds in 1994 with four strains. We now have over 50 in our library.
Tim Lay: So you must have seen a few changes in the industry over the years?
Luc Krol: Definitely! When I started breeding, indoor growing was very much in its infancy and the equipment was very rudimentary. Because of prohibition, the cannabis community was very much underground and this influenced how the industry developed. However, innovations in equipment and cannabis genetics rapidly drove the industry forward in the 2000s. For example, Paradise Seeds was one of the first companies to develop and stabilise feminised photoperiod and autoflower varieties, which were game changers for cultivators.
Tim Lay: When did the medical aspect of the industry emerge?
Luc Krol: From the early days of Paradise we received consistent correspondence from cannabis users who were claiming medical benefits. However, at that time science wasn’t interested, due to the stigma accompanying the prohibition period. The internet accelerated the spread of anecdotal evidence suggesting the medical value of cannabis and as legalisation became a reality during the 2000s/2010s, in more countries and US states, it became easier to have that conversation. It was around 2012 that Paradise started getting interest from Canadian LP startups and became involved in South America’s largest medical cannabis cultivation in Chile.
Tim Lay: Is this when you first became aware of the work of the scientists in Madrid?
Luc Krol: Yes. I had been made aware of an article published in the scientific journal, Nature Medicine (titled ‘Anti-tumoral action of cannabinoids: Involvement of sustained ceramide accumulation and extracellular signal-regulated kinase activation’) which considered the anti-tumour effects of cannabinoids. Like many in the industry, I became interested in the work of Dr Guillermo Velasco, Dr Manuel Guzman and Dr Cristina Sanchez, working at Complutense University in Madrid. Throughout the 2000s they developed their research into how cannabinoids affected cancerous cells in brain, skin and breast cancers. I will admit that at the time we were probably all seeking a ‘holy grail’ which would legitimise cannabis, but the lab results were impressive and they carried scientific weight. Their studies looked at how cannabinoids appeared to destroy cancer cells by starving them of the nutrients they needed to grow.
Tim Lay: So what happened next?
Luc Krol: Like many of the best ideas, it started as a conversation over a couple of beers! I discovered that one of my merchandise suppliers, Matej Munej (Snail Rolling Papers) also liked to cycle. We decided to do a bike ride from Barcelona to Valencia. To give it some purpose we asked family and friends for charity donations. We decided to do it again the next year, but with more riders, and raise funds specifically for medical cannabis research. I got in contact with the Madrid scientists and proposed that we fund some of their work. They agreed and the Medical Cannabis Bike Tour Foundation was born!
Tim Lay: How many bike tours did you do?
Luc Krol: Well, the first official Medical Cannabis Bike Tour was in 2013. There were perhaps 15 riders and I worked hard to get some sponsors from the cannabis industry (which at the time was significantly smaller). We made up some cycling sportif uniforms displaying their logos and rode for three days from Madrid to Valencia. We raised 50,000 Euro in sponsorship and got a lot of publicity. The next year, we got almost 40 riders, this time from around the world. Then we decided we should take it ‘on the road’ and we held bike tours in the Netherlands/Belgium/Germany, Slovenia/Italy and Czech Republic/Austria. Over five bike tours we raised 400,000 Euro.
Tim Lay: So what is the history of the clinical trial currently taking place in Spain?
Luc Krol: Dr Velasco and Dr Guzman suggested that the MCBT Foundation fund their research into Glioblastoma, which is a particularly aggressive brain cancer. Their studies suggested that a combination of cannabinoids with other anticancer agents could eliminate GICs (Glioma Initiating Cells) which fuel brain tumours. The findings were significant as the population of GICs impedes the effectiveness of conventional brain cancer therapies. It all changed in 2014 however when GEINO got involved.
Tim Lay:What is GEINO?
Luc Krol: GEINO is the Spanish Group of Neuro-Oncology Research. Their interest in the research prepared the ground to start talking about funding a clinical trial. As a well-respected organisation, capable of coordinating the trials on a practical level (in hospitals specialising in cancer treatments) they gave the project the legitimacy it needed to become a reality.
Tim Lay: And you were adamant that the trials should be independent?
Luc Krol: It was important for us that the trial should be totally independent. This decision was very much in the ethos of the cannabis industry and wider cannabis/medical cannabis community at the time. There were concerns that pharmaceutical companies were only interested in the profit potential of medical cannabis. We saw it as a collective ‘citizen’ effort for science to profit from our fundraising. It was accompanied by a desire to challenge the stigma of cannabis by combining it with sport.
Tim Lay: How has the journey been?
Luc Krol: It’s taken ten years from the first bike tour taking place to the clinical trial beginning. We knew it would be a long process, especially taking the independent route, but I don’t think anyone involved thought it would take so long! But all credit to GEINO (and especially its Chief Investigator, Dr Juan Manuel Sepúlveda) and the Complutense team, who have been patient and persistent.
Tim Lay: The clinical trial began in September. What are the details?
Luc Krol: The trial runs for 18 months at eight specialist hospitals with neuro-oncology units. It will involve 30 patients with glioblastoma (brain cancer) and study the antitumor effect of combining THC and CBD with traditional cancer treatments which use temozolomide and radiotherapy. Tilray Medical is providing the medical cannabis, with EU-GMP certification, for use in the trial.
Tim Lay: What does the trial hope to achieve?
Luc Krol: This will be the first clinical trial, involving patients, and it seeks to prove the hypothesis that cannabinoids produce anti-tumour activity in glioblastomas, which are the most aggressive of brain cancers and are difficult to treat. This trial will see the encouraging research of the scientists in the lab applied to humans. At the very least it will provide the basis for further study and exploration of cannabis in a cancer treatment capacity. It may also present therapeutic benefits for brain cancer patients. Obviously it is important to keep expectations in check and we won’t really know how successful the trial is until it concludes in early 2025.
Tim Lay: What do you think its legacy will be?
Luc Krol: Well, I hope of course that it will play a role in cannabis’ efficacy as a cancer cure. I also hope the Medical Cannabis Bike Tour will be seen as part of the big shift in how cannabis was perceived by society. We challenged stereotypes and became a real source of inspiration, rooted in the cannabis community, as a movement for positive change.