The current state of medical marijuana research

Marijuana has been cultivated for thousands of years, and its medicinal benefits have been experienced by and relied upon by generations of people from across the world. In the United States, marijuana has had a troubled history. Centuries of opposition from lawmakers, peppered by negative connotations and prejudices have led to a false and outdated understanding of and fear towards marijuana. In the 1970’s, however, public awareness of the medical benefits of marijuana began to surface across the country, and in 1996, California became the first state to implement a regulated medical marijuana program.

A Lack of Large-Scale Research

Although the medical marijuana industry is spreading across the US, with over half the states now having some medical program, the sector itself is still very much in its infancy stage. Due to the federal illegality of both medicinal and recreational marijuana, medical marijuana continues to be plagued by a lack of research and understanding of its therapeutic benefits. Because the federal government has classified marijuana as a Schedule I substance, the high-quality research needed for FDA approval is unable to receive any government funding and often discouraged. The lack of scientific evidence has not only led to physician apprehension of the use of cannabis as a form of treatment but curtailed patient availability as well as a national understanding of medical marijuana.

What Current Studies Reflect

Today, although research on medical marijuana may be limited in comparison to the greater scope of medicines in general, the research that has been conducted weighs in favor of the use of medical marijuana. Just as crucial as completed research is the ongoing studies and reasons for them. Pain, epilepsy, appetite stimulation and anti-inflammation are a few of the conditions that have been and continue to be studied as being directly affected (improved) by the use of medical marijuana. More recently, due in part to the rising number of deaths associated with the use of opioids, medical marijuana has been seen as a significant player in combatting opioid addiction. The opioid epidemic has spread across the US, and many states are looking to medical marijuana as an alternative to opioid use.

Epidiolex and the Future of Medical Marijuana Studies

A significant turning point for medical marijuana in the US occurred in June 2018 when the US Food and Drug Administration approved, for the first time, a prescription pharmaceutical drug formulated from the marijuana-derived cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD). Epidiolex, the approved-medicine created by Canada-based GW Pharmaceuticals and US-subsidiary Greenwich Biosciences, should be available as soon as Fall 2018 to children 2 years and older for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome. As it stands, it is unsure how insurance providers will choose to cover Epidiolex, but the pressure for coverage is already coming from families who plan on receiving the medicine, as well as doctors, who have been waiting for the day they can prescribe it to suffering families.

The approval also means that it is possible for a product to undergo the rigorous testing and research required from the FDA and prove successful. Beyond the countless hours put into the study and vast financial expense, is the actual science behind the product and resilience of researchers and scientists to prove the positive effects on patients and patient families. The landmark approval from the FDA has also continued the conversation about medical marijuana in the US. There is no doubt that medical marijuana is gaining popularity and validity across the US. Patient populations continue to rise across the US, as does scientific exploration, the conditions medical marijuanacan treat the relief it can provide.

Medical Marijuana Research Studies

Ahmed, W., & Katz, S. (2016). Therapeutic Use of Cannabis in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 12(11), 668–679.

Hurd, Y. L., Yoon, M., Manini, A. F., Hernandez, S., Olmedo, R., Ostman, M., & Jutras-Aswad, D. (2015). Early Phase in the Development of Cannabidiol as a Treatment for Addiction: Opioid Relapse Takes Initial Center Stage. Neurotherapeutics, 12(4), 807–815.

Institute of Medicine. 1999. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.