Pubdate: Wed, 17 Dec 2014
Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Author: Kristen Wyatt


DENVER (AP) - Colorado will spend more than $8 million researching 
marijuana's medical potential - a new frontier because 
government-funded marijuana research traditionally focuses on the 
drug's negative health effects.

The grants awarded by the Colorado Board of Health will go to studies 
on whether marijuana helps treat epilepsy, brain tumors, Parkinson's 
disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the studies still 
need federal approval.

Though the awards are relatively small, researchers say they're a big 
step forward. While several other federal studies currently in the 
works look at marijuana's health effects, all the Colorado studies 
are focused on whether marijuana actually helps.

"This is the first time we've had government money to look at the 
efficacy of marijuana, not the harms of marijuana," said Dr. Suzanne 
Sisley, a Scottsdale, Arizona, psychiatrist who will help run a study 
on marijuana for veterans with PTSD. Sisley plans to do her research 
in private practice after previously working for the University of Arizona.

Federal approval to study marijuana's medical potential requires 
permission of the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement 
Administration, and either the National Institutes of Health or the 
Department of Health and Human Services. And there's only one legal 
source of the weed, the Marijuana Research Project at the University 
of Mississippi.

Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., allow marijuana use by 
people with various medical conditions. But under federal law, pot is 
considered a drug with no medical use and doctors cannot prescribe it.

Dr. Larry Wolk, Colorado's Chief Medical Officer, says the lack of 
research on marijuana's medical value leaves sick people guessing 
about how pot may help them and what doses to take.

"There's nowhere else in medicine where we give a patient some seeds 
and say, 'Go grow this and process it and then figure out how much 
you need,'" Wolk said.

"We need research dollars so we can answer more questions."

Three of the eight research projects, including the veterans study, 
will still need federal clearance and access to the Ole Miss 
marijuana. The other five are "observational studies," meaning the 
subjects will be providing their own weed.

Among the projects poised for approval Wednesday:

- - Two separate studies on using marijuana to treat post-traumatic 
stress disorder ($3.1 million)

- - Whether adolescents and young adults with irritable bowel syndrome 
benefit from marijuana ($1.2 million)

- - Using marijuana to relieve pain in children with brain tumors ($1 million)

- - How an oil derived from marijuana plants affects pediatric epilepsy 
patients ($524,000)

- - Comparing marijuana and oxycodone for pain relief ($472,000)

The money is coming from Colorado's medical marijuana patient fees, 
not Colorado's new taxes on recreational pot.

Last year, lawmakers authorized $10 million from reserves for 
"objective scientific research regarding the efficacy of marijuana 
and its component parts as part of medical treatment."

A group of medical marijuana patients announced a lawsuit Wednesday 
challenging Colorado's marijuana research. They say Colorado's 
medical marijuana law requires excess cash to be refunded to patients 
who paid the fees, not diverted to other research.

Colorado received 57 applications for research grants. An advisory 
board whittled those to eight proposals totaling $7.6 million. The 
Board authorized the spending of up to $8.4 million, in case the 
projects run over budget.

One of the researchers poised to study marijuana and PTSD called the 
Colorado awards groundbreaking because the state is providing money 
without federal red tape.

"The opportunity in Colorado is an amazing one," said Marcel 
Bonn-Miller, a psychiatrist with the University of Pennsylvania who 
leads the Substance Abuse and Anxiety Program for the U.S. Veterans 
Affairs Department. The VA is not participating directly in his 
marijuana studies.

Colorado has about 117,000 medical marijuana patients who pay $15 a 
year to be on the registry. The number has grown slightly since 
Colorado voted two years ago to make marijuana legal for recreational 
purposes, not just medical purposes.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom