Hurdles expected for Utah's medical marijuana research law

June 14, 2017 by Hallie Golden
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Utah lawmakers balked again this year at joining more than half of all U.S. states and passing a broad medical marijuana law.

Instead, they gave state colleges and other institutions a green light to study the medical impacts of the drug with the hope of having comprehensive data by next year.

The move, however, glossed over the fact that the studies would likely take years, requiring scientists to navigate layers of bureaucracy that can delay and even discourage research.

The slowdown is due to marijuana being considered a Schedule I drug by the federal government, meaning it's listed along with heroin and peyote among the most dangerous drugs.

No other U.S. state is taking the research-before-legislation route because they realize it is futile, said Jahan Marcu of Americans for Safe Access, a national medical cannabis advocacy group.

"It's never been shown to work in the past, so we are not confident that it's going to serve the needs of patients," he said of the process.

A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommended that the gaps in understanding medical cannabis be filled through a national research agenda.

Karen Wilcox, chair of the University of Utah's pharmacology and toxicology department, has spent about 18 months studying how cannabidiol—a derivative of cannabis—can affect seizures. The application process alone took six months.

"It just takes a lot of time and effort to fill out all the paperwork," she said. "It's a nightmare."

Resident Doug Rice said Utah's research-before-legislation approach means his daughter, who has a genetic condition, is missing out on the one drug that completely eliminates her frequent seizures.

The wait for legalization has sent Rice on regular trips to Colorado to get cannabis to treat his 24-year-old daughter Ashley.

Nearly every drug they've tried, including cannabidiol, has failed to stop all of her seizures. Rice said the only time his daughter has a completely seizure free day is when he takes her to Colorado, where marijuana is legal, and gives her cannabis twice a day.

"Epilepsy is a deadly disease," he said. "Every seizure takes away a little bit of her brain."

Lawmakers and advocates have pushed for the drug to be declassified and grouped with such drugs as cocaine and opiates, which have medical uses but are still illegal for recreational use.

The change could make it easier to study and prescribe marijuana, but the Obama administration decided against it last year.

Researchers now have to file applications with multiple federal agencies before they can request cannabis products from a university in Mississippi that remains the country's sole source of pot for federally approved research.

Ethan Russo, medical director at the clinical research organization Phytecs, is working on a Johns Hopkins University research project on how components of cannabis impact mood and memory. He said the research team submitted the proposal about a year ago and is still working to get funding approval from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

So far, there are a handful of projects being considered at the University of Utah, including how cannabidiol impacts people who have autism and anxiety and its effect on post-traumatic stress disorder. But it will likely take years before any of those studies are completed.

Steven Gust of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said the application process keeps patients safe, and is the same for researchers who want to study any controlled substance.

It usually takes about two-and-a-half months to get a U.S. Food and Drug Administration application approved and complete the registration process with the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to agencies' websites.

Researchers may also be expected to complete the National Institute of Health review process, which the agency said can take about 10 months if the researchers are requesting funding.

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced last year it was going to expand the number of entities that can legally grow marijuana for research purposes to make it easier for researchers.

But so far no institutions have signed on, according to Gust.

The University of Mississippi grows about 120 plants in its indoor facility, each of which takes about four months to mature, said Mahmoud ElSohly, a pharmacology professor at the university.

Utah already allows cannabidiol to be used by people with severe epilepsy, as long as they obtain it from other states. The extract has low levels of THC, the hallucinogenic chemical in marijuana.

Explore further: Component of marijuana may help treat anxiety and substance abuse disorders

Related Stories

Component of marijuana may help treat anxiety and substance abuse disorders

March 8, 2017
Cannabidiol, a major component of cannabis or marijuana, appears to have effects on emotion and emotional memory, which could be helpful for treating anxiety-related and substance abuse disorders.

Noted experts critically evaluate benefits of medical marijuana for treatment of epilepsy

May 24, 2017
Although cannabis had been used for many centuries for treatment of seizure disorders, medical use became prohibited in the 20th century. However, with the loosening of laws regarding medical marijuana, research and clinical ...

Germany expects cannabis-growing program to be going in 2019

March 3, 2017
German authorities say they expect to have a cannabis-growing program up and running in 2019 after the country approved legislation allowing some patients to get the drug as a prescription medication.

Medical marijuana advocates say Iowa program too limited

April 27, 2017
A medical marijuana oil program approved by the Iowa Legislature might not offer much help to patients with qualifying medical conditions, but advocates say it's at least a step in the right direction.

More than 500 sign up to buy legal cannabis in Uruguay

May 3, 2017
More than 500 people signed up to buy state-vetted cannabis in Uruguay on the first day of registration for the first such scheme in the world, authorities said Wednesday.

Recommended for you

Breathing dirty air may harm kidneys, study finds

September 21, 2017
Outdoor air pollution has long been linked to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A new study now adds kidney disease to the list, according to ...

Excess dietary manganese promotes staph heart infection

September 21, 2017
Too much dietary manganese—an essential trace mineral found in leafy green vegetables, fruits and nuts—promotes infection of the heart by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus ("staph").

Being active saves lives whether a gym workout, walking to work or washing the floor

September 21, 2017
Physical activity of any kind can prevent heart disease and death, says a large international study involving more than 130,000 people from 17 countries published this week in The Lancet.

Frequent blood donations safe for some, but not all

September 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—Some people may safely donate blood as often as every eight weeks—but that may not be a healthy choice for all, a new study suggests.

Higher manganese levels in children correlate with lower IQ scores, study finds

September 21, 2017
A study led by environmental health researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine finds that children in East Liverpool, Ohio with higher levels of Manganese (Mn) had lower IQ scores. The research appears ...

Higher levels of fluoride in pregnant woman linked to lower intelligence in their children

September 20, 2017
Fluoride in the urine of pregnant women shows a correlation with lower measures of intelligence in their children, according to University of Toronto researchers who conducted the first study of its kind and size to examine ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.