As Legalization Spreads, Researchers Amp Up Medical Marijuana Testing
By Roger Malespin
September 11th 2018 photo/istock/boonchai wedmakawand
With the rapid spread of the legalization movement across the country, one of the main benefits the industry is experiencing is an increase in quality research into the medical benefits of marijuana. Yes, it is true that countless people have said marijuana helps greatly with their pain, but the fact is that all of those cases are anecdotes. In order to truly help establish cannabis as a viable alternative to opioids and other pain medication, we need hard science to back it up. Fortunately, more research is exactly what we are getting, including the first academic programs in the world dedicated to the study of cannabis.
The National Institute of Drug abuse (NIDA) and National Institute of Health (NIH) are conducting the additional studies to determine the link between medical marijuana use and the use or misuse of opioids for specific types of pain, and also its possible role for treatment of opioid use disorder. They are described as “ preclinical and clinical trials with marijuana and its extracts to treat symptoms of illness and other conditions.”
Edythe London, a professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at UCLA, developed a program to better understand different combinations of THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, and cannabidiol, the anti-inflammatory component that doesn’t induce a high.
London said in an interview with NBC that the study aims to find out which combination “produces the most good,” with the goal of reducing the test subjects’ pain and their use of opioids.
The schedule 1 drug classification severely limits the viable research allowed, but some of those restrictions have been eased in light of the alarming number of opioid-related deaths in recent years. The CDC estimated some 42,000 Americans died from opioids in 2017 - manufactured fentanyl and heroin account for some of the deaths, but over 40% were due to prescription opioids.
We reported earlier this year about a study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) which found that states with medical marijuana saw an average drop of 6% in prescription deaths, and an 8.5% decrease for medicare class D. While the study was a success, it does not differentiate between those who replaced or supplemented their opioids with marijuana and those who didn’t. It is essentially a correlation does not equal causation argument now, which is legitimate, so a more focused study is needed.
The key to funding those studies is to change the federal classification. Most institutions, including UCLA, have a policy of not researching drugs at that class, and while some elbow room has been alloted recently, those improvements can be called limited at best.
Dr. Jeffrey Chen, director of the Cannabis Research Initiative at the University of California, Los Angeles, said “The public consumption of cannabis has already far outpaced our scientific understanding. We really desperately need to catch up.”
Scientific study is a slow process that can be frustrating, but is essential to changing the federal classification of marijuana in the future. The FDA has already approved Epidiolex, the first cannabis-based medicine to be approved, giving the more focused studies a foot in the door, and are without a doubt interested in furthering the improvements made against the opioid crisis.
Slowly but surely, this key component in the fight for legalization is being realized