We know that cannabis has medical benefits. A Virginia Commonwealth University study showed natural ingredients in marijuana help control seizures in epilepsy. A Scripps Research Institute study showed that THC prevents the formation of Alzheimer’s plaques in the brain. And, researchers have called medicinal marijuana an effective treatment against glaucoma since the 1970s.
While these are beneficial outcomes from research of medicinal marijuana, more research is needed on the plant’s medical benefits. Patients want it. Doctors recommend it. And yet, medicinal marijuana research has largely lagged in the United States. Why?
First, medicinal marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Advocates are hopeful that by lifting the federal government’s ban on medicinal marijuana—as Congress did in December—that the plant will be reclassified and needed research will be possible.
Time will tell if and when medicinal marijuana is reclassified. The power to reclassify any Schedule 1 substance lies in the authority of the U.S. Attorney General, who in practice has delegated it to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration).
Another reason for the lack of medicinal marijuana research is due to the process researchers must go through to conduct clinical studies. Regulations and, what could be seen as barriers of red tape, require permission from the Food and Drug Administration, the DEA, and either the National Institutes of Health or the Department of Health and Human Services. Plus, there is only one legal source of marijuana for federal research purposes; the Marijuana Research Project at the University of Mississippi.
That’s why the $8 million approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to pay for medicinal marijuana research is like a breath of fresh air. Because medicinal marijuana is legal in Colorado, the state is using money from medical marijuana patients’ application fees to fund the research. This initial money will fund medicinal research related to PTSD, pediatric epilepsy, irritable bowel syndrome, pain relief for children with brain tumors, and comparing cannabis to oxycodone for pain relief.
Such a step makes Colorado the first state in the U.S. to fund medicinal marijuana research. It makes sense. After a year of medical marijuana sales, the State has funds available. We’re likely to see Washington, Alaska and Oregon follow in Colorado’s footsteps.
While some of the studies being funded by Colorado will require federal clearance and access to the marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi, this funding is an important giant step to finding answers for patients who are suffering.