A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University will track 10,000 medical marijuana patients over a year or more in an effort to better understand the efficacy and impacts of cannabis therapy.
Funded with a five-year $10 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the research team will work with federal researchers and the nonprofit Realm of Caring, among others, to collect data around dosing, delivery methods, the chemical composition of products, possible medication interactions and other treatment details.
“Our mission with this research is to understand the health impacts of therapeutic cannabis use,” one of the study’s co-creators, Ryan Vandrey, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement. “We hope to provide some starting points for understanding what types of products may or may not be helpful and what types of products may be more risky for use in certain populations or for certain therapeutic purposes.”
“Under the umbrella term of cannabis exist hundreds of products that are all different in very important and significant ways,” he added. “We’re trying to narrow the scope a little bit, find areas of real promise and focus the science on those.”
Despite a notable increase in published research around marijuana in recent years, obstacles to science caused by federal cannabis laws mean clinicians are playing still catch-up in a country where more than three-quarters of states have legalized the drug for medical use.
“We have the availability of cannabis as a therapeutic,” Vandry said, “but we’re lacking the quality of data that we have with other medicines.”
A Johns Hopkins press release says the National Cannabis Study, which is part of a larger Cannabis and Health Research Initiative, will follow the “nationally representative” cohort consisting of an estimated 10,000 patients “as they progress from cannabis naivety through a year or more of cannabis use.”
“We’re tracking them with multiple assessments over the course of their first year with more tightly spaced assessments toward the beginning because our assumption is that as people are starting their medical cannabis journey, they’re likely going to try different products until they find the products that best help them with their symptoms,” said Johannes Thrul, a project collaborator and mental health professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
As the university pursues its own research initiative, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently posted a notice of funding opportunity announcing that it is looking for an entity to operate a new Resource Center for Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research through a cooperative agreement in order to “address challenges and barriers to conducting research on cannabis and its constituents.”
Addressing marijuana research barriers has been a key priority for multiple federal health agencies as scientists continue to face an onerous and costly registration process in order to access cannabis due to its current status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
That policy is actively under review by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) following a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendation to move cannabis to Schedule III.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.