Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jun 2014
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2014 The Denver Post Corp
Author: John Ingold
Page: 1A


The Colorado Health Agency's Grants Were Signed Off This Year.

More than a decade after voters here first said marijuana could be 
medicine, Colorado is preparing to embark on the largest state funded 
effort to study the medical benefits of cannabis.

Under a bill signed this year by Gov. John Hickenlooper, the state 
health department will give out about $9 million in grants in the 
next five years to researchers for marijuana studies. Most 
importantly, the research is expected to include clinical trials on 
the kinds of marijuana products actually being used in Colorado - 
something that federally funded studies on marijuana have lacked.

"Our intent is to be rigorous scientifically, but to also act with 
some expediency because these are products that a large percentage of 
our population is using today," said Dr. Larry Wolk, the executive 
director and chief medical officer of the health department. "We want 
to make sure that what's happening out there in everyday practice 
isn't harming people."

Nearly 20 years after California became the first state in the U.S. 
to pass a medical marijuana law, the research on marijuana's health 
effects is still largely polarized.

Several studies - matching the anecdotal experiences of medical 
marijuana patients - have found cannabis or its isolated components 
can be effective in managing pain, tremors, nausea, inflammation and 
other conditions.

Other studies, though, have taken a dimmer view of marijuana, summed 
up by a new National Institute on Drug Abuse review, published in the 
New England Journal of Medicine, that concludes marijuana is bad for 
brain development and can lead to addiction. Although the review says 
marijuana may have therapeutic potential, it finds the evidence less 
than convincing.

"Some physicians continue to prescribe marijuana for medicinal 
purposes despite limited evidence of a benefit," the review states. 
"This practice raises particular concerns with regard to long-term 
use by vulnerable populations."

Complicating the analyses further is that many studies use cannabis 
grown by a government-contracted lab-not the kind of sophisticated, 
and often more potent, products developed by the medical marijuana 
industry across the country.

California attempted to solve this riddle last decade by becoming the 
first state to fund medical marijuana research. More than 12 years 
and $8.7 million later, the state's Center for Medicinal Cannabis 
Research published studies finding that smoked marijuana could 
relieve pain at certain doses, that vaporized marijuana was safer on 
the lungs, that medical marijuana patients with multiple sclerosis 
reported reduced spasticity and other findings.

Colorado is now attempting to build on that research. The money for 
the grant program will come from registration fees paid by medical 
marijuana patients.

Wolk said the health department is assembling the oversight committee 
that will review grant applications. He hopes to begin accepting 
applications in the second half of 2014, with funding for studies 
going out in early 2015. He expects the state will be able to fund 10 
to 15 studies.

Wolk said research on the medical conditions approved for marijuana 
use in Colorado would take priority. But he said the state also would 
consider funding other types of studies - even local clinical trials 
on pharmaceutical drugs derived from marijuana.

"We're trying to turn over all the stones on this," he said.

Dr. Christian Thurstone, an adolescent addiction medicine specialist 
at the University of Colorado, said he hopes to apply for a grant to 
study whether a nonpsychoactive marijuana compound called CBD can 
help treat people addicted to cocaine, opiates or even pot. Earlier 
studies have suggested it could.

Thurstone, who has often expressed concerns about marijuana 
legalization, said it is important for the state to fund research on 
cannabis, in part because the federal government is falling behind. 
Since 2003, the amount of money the National Institutes of Health has 
given out in grants for all research has remained basically 
unchanged, when adjusted for inflation.

"We have to look at other ways to keep our research infrastructure 
going," Thurstone said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom