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There are not many clinical trials that study medical marijuana due to the cannabis plant’s federally illegal status. Colorado has been a rare exception, given Amendment 64. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) now plans to expand the state’s nine funded medical marijuana studies. They are offering $3million more in grants for qualified research efforts.
In 2014, the Colorado General Assembly created a Medical Marijuana Research Grants program in hopes of attaining concrete evidence on the medical benefits of cannabis. 2014 is the same year, the states recreational cannabis sales started. So far the program has funded studies on how medical marijuana impacts post-traumatic stress disorder, inflammatory bowel disease among youth, pediatric brain tumors, epilepsy and sleeping disorders.
Projects have also compared medical marijuana to oxycodone and CBD’s treatment of Parkinson’s tremors and pediatric epilepsy.
Since 2015, the Colorado Board of Health has not approved an application, but with the $3 million in funding, the CDPHE wants more studies. Their announcement states: “Priority conditions for study include autism, reducing long-term opioid use for chronic pain, chronic non-nerve pain, dementia and ovarian cancer. Up to three grants could be awarded, with the total grant funding not to exceed $2.7 million. The remaining $300,000 was set aside by the legislature for administration of the grant program by the department.”
The deadline is July 20 for preliminary applications. They will then invite a subset of those applicants to submit full applications. An advisory will review the applications and send recommendations to the Board of Health, by late October. Grants will be awarded before the end of the year.
A bill that sought to add autism spectrum disorder to the state’s list of conditions pass the legislature by wide margins but was vetoed by Governor John Hickenlooper. He stated his “sole concern that medical efficacy of MMJ to treat ASD has yet to be fully studied by medical professionals and scientific experts entrusted to this role at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.” He instead issued an executive order for the Colorado Board of Health to start researching the “safety and efficacy of medical marijuana for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder in children.”
Last year, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill that created a separate licensing program for issuing research-and-development licenses for public and private studies within the Marijuana Enforcement Division.
The department began to accept grant applications. Money for the grants comes from marijuana taxes. The department is particularly interested in the health effects, both on mother and child, of marijuana use by pregnant women; the factors that contribute to teens’ decisions to use marijuana; the mental and physical health effects of increasing THC potency; and the differences in health outcomes between heavy and less frequent marijuana consumers.
In the rules for grant applicants, the department states all proposed study’s principle researcher must have “a demonstrated record of successful grant-funded research or data analysis.” In the past, marijuana research grants were awarded to scientists connected to hospitals or universities. For-profit organizations cannot apply for the grants unless they partner with a non-profit.
The department will award two different types of grants. The primary involves full research grants of $300,000 per year for three years for longer-term studies gathering original data. Smaller “pilot grants” will be awarded 100,000 per year for two years.
This is exciting news for the world of medical marijuana. Hopefully these new grants will lead to much anticipated discoveries, and move medical marijuana a little closer to becoming a commonplace medicine for a whole host of illnesses.