Clinical trials that study medical marijuana are few and far between because of the plant’s federally illegal status. Colorado has been the rare exception to that rule, thanks to the passage of Amendment 64, and now the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment hopes to expand on the state’s nine currently funded MMJ studies by offering nearly $3 million more in grants for qualified research efforts.
The Colorado General Assembly created a Medical Marijuana Research Grants Program in 2014, the same year that the state’s recreational cannabis sales started, in hopes of attaining concrete evidence on the medical benefits of cannabis. So far the program has funded studies about MMJ’s affect on post-traumatic stress disorder, inflammatory bowel disease among youth, pediatric brain tumors, epilepsy and sleeping disorders; research projects have also compared MMJ to Oxycodone and studied CBD’s treatment of Parkinson’s tremors and pediatric epilepsy. Five of these projects are being conducted by the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus.
The Colorado Board of Health, which is responsible for authorizing grants for the MMJ research program, hasn’t approved an application since 2015 — but with a $2.7 million infusion from the state legislature, the CDPHE wants to see more studies. “Priority conditions for study include autism, reducing long-term opioid use for chronic pain, chronic non-nerve pain, dementia and ovarian cancer,” the CDPHE announcement reads. “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 for preliminary applications is July 20, according to the CDPHE, which will then invite a subset of applicants to submit full applications. An advisory council will review the applications and is expected to finalize its recommendations to the Board of Health by late October; the final grants should be awarded before the end of the year.
A bill that would have added autism spectrum disorder to the state’s list of qualified MMJ conditions passed the legislature by wide margins this past session, but it was vetoed by Governor John Hickenlooper, on the “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 explained. Two days later, the governor’s office issued an executive order for the Colorado Board of Health to begin researching the “safety and efficacy of medical marijuana for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder in children.”
In 2017, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill creating a separate licensing program within the Marijuana Enforcement Division that will issue research-and-development licenses for public and private studies by nonprofit and government organizations and commercial businesses. That licensing program is expected to start in July.