Colorado may fund research into medical marijuana, another first

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Colorado may become the first state to fund research into the medical benefits of marijuana, if the state legislature approves a $7 million request to study how pot can affect everything from post traumatic stress disorder to epilepsy in children.

Marijuana advocates have long complained that most evidence of the plant’s therapeutic benefits is either anecdotal or based on overseas research. Because possession is federally prohibited, it’s nearly impossible for medical researchers to study it as robustly as other drugs.

But with Colorado having fully legalized marijuana use for adults, and with $13 million in the Medical Marijuana Program Cash Fund, Gov. John Hickenlooper allocated about half of it to medical research in his proposed 2014 budget, something no other state has done.

“The impetus is that we have about $13 million in the Medical Marijuana [Program] Cash Fund, and it needs to be used for purposes that relate to the people who paid for their medical-marijuana cards,” Henry Sobanet, director of the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting, told the Colorado Springs Independent. “And the impetus really was that now there appears to be ways where legitimate research can be conducted on the use of cannabis or marijuana for medical purposes.”

Families with severely epileptic children have been flocking to Colorado to treat them with oil derived from a strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web. It’s named for 6-year-old Charlotte Figi who has a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome. Her mother wrote in a blog that her daughter’s seizures fell from around 300 per week to three over the course of 8 months after using the oil.

The marijuana derivative has barely any THC, the ingredient that causes users to get high, but around 17 percent cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive ingredient believed to disrupt the epilepsy.

Likewise, many veterans report that certain strains of marijuana helps them cope with PTSD. But attempts to add the condition to the list of ailments that qualify Colorado patients for a medical marijuana license, which require the approval of the state Board of Health, have been rejected.

One reason is because of a lack of scientific research, which stems back to the federal prohibition on marijuana.

“Our existing policies are literally killing veterans,” Dr. Bob Melamede, who runs an infused products business called Cannabis Science, told the Independent. “And even though I’m an old hippie, I find that incredibly offensive.”

“We’ve got veterans killing themselves every 60 or 90 minutes,” he said. It’s ridiculous.”

Melamede is among those who would apply for research grants to study pot’s effect on PTSD and other serious ailments if the legislature approves the expenditure. Grants of $500,000 to $1 million would be available to universities, research hospitals and other organizations.

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