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First Ever State-Supported Medical Marijuana Research

Medical Marijuana ResearchLast week, Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to allow certain schools in the commonwealth to partner with medical marijuana companies to research the effects of cannabis on various conditions.  Act 16 of 2016, the Medical Marijuana Act, grants as many as eight health systems, defined as a medical school with an acute-care hospital, to each pair with a private company to determine the safety, efficacy and effectiveness of cannabis products in treating specific diseases. 

Historically, marijuana has not been well-studied in the United States because of its federal status as a Schedule 1 drug with no medical benefits making it illegal.  Not to mention that very few doctors nationwide have access to medical cannabis.  Although other states that have legalized medical marijuana have considered research programs, all have dropped the idea because federal funding for universities and hospitals could be put in jeopardy.

The difference between Pennsylvania’s law and other states is that those states have structured their programs so that all marijuana operations would be on school campuses.  Approved Commonwealth marijuana companies on the other hand will grow the cannabis and sell it at their dispensaries as well as enlist the patients for the studies.  Patients will be responsible for purchasing the experimental medicine which is unlike traditional medical drug studies. The medical schools will then be the ones to analyze the data.

Act 16 specifies that research must be related to treating one of the serious medical conditions officially approved for medical marijuana under the law.  These cover 21 conditions, including four being added upon recommendation of the state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board.  The four are opioid-use disorder, neurodegenerative diseases, terminal illness and dyskinetic and spastic movement disorder. 

The eight state-supported research centers authorized by the Pennsylvania Health Department include:  Drexel University College of Medicine, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Perelman School of Medicine, all in Philadelphia; and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey and Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Erie. 

The department plans to provide applications to become a clinical registrant later this week with a submission deadline of July 12.  It is expected to take about nine months to a year from the time applications are submitted until the time the growers/processors are supplying medical marijuana.  Once the centers are affiliated with an approved and operational clinical registrant, they will be permitted to move forward with starting research. 

Since inception of the medical marijuana program, over 37,000 patients have registered to participate in the program with more than 16,000 residents receiving the product at a Pennsylvania dispensary. 

Source: State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

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