To get around the guardrails surrounding marijuana research, Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University wants to create a network of 100,000 medical marijuana patients in order to collect definitive information about the plant. Founded “to advance scientific understanding of medical marijuana and its derivatives” by providing evidence-based resources for patients and caregivers, the new mmj.org initiative is working to build the world’s largest database of patients.
Scientists hoping to research marijuana in a clinical setting currently have one option for specimens: the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which sources its marijuana plants from a single contractor at the University of Mississippi. Not only have those plants been criticized for their inferior quality, but the list of authorized marijuana research projects stuck using them is extremely short, with each requiring approval from the Drug Enforcement and Food and Drug administrations.
A school of fewer than 8,000 enrolled students, Thomas Jefferson opened its Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp in 2016, after receiving a $3 million donation from Australian philanthropists Barry and Joy Lambert to be used for expanded research into medical marijuana and hemp and product development. Now, it wants patients from any of this country’s 29 states that currently have medical marijuana programs to help.
“Millions of patients with chronic diseases are seeking health benefits from marijuana and various cannabinoids, and many are left to experiment with cannabis products on their own. These patients and their caregivers not only deserve our support, but they can help advance scientific understanding by sharing their experiences in a research registry designed with rigor and scale,” Lambert Center director Charles V. Pollack Jr. says in a statement announcing the new database. “Current evidence indicates that cannabinoids can be useful in the management of certain types of chronic pain, side effects of chemotherapy, and some symptoms of multiple sclerosis — but there is much we still need to learn.” (We have something to learn, too: whether patients in the database will be able to remain anonymous. We’ve requested clarification from the Lambert Center.)
Even in states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, many universities stay away from researching the plant for fear of violating the Controlled Substances Act and losing federal funding. To help the school stay out of Uncle Sam’s crosshairs while still pushing research forward, the Lambert Center wants you to be your own clinician — and guinea pig.
“The first focus of the mmj.org initiative is a national patient registry in which more than 100,000 medical marijuana patients will share their health outcomes to drive new understanding of the safety and medical utility of cannabinoids used as therapy,” reads the announcement from Thomas Jefferson. The initiative will begin recruiting patients this summer, with plans to collect and analyze their experiences with marijuana before providing the information to caregivers, patients and other medical marijuana stakeholders.
Although the roster has been declining steadily over the past three years, Colorado had nearly 89,000 registered medical marijuana patients as of April 2018, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.