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As states manage their cannabis legalization programs, each has experienced moments of success and struggled with challenges.
But Michigan recently scored a big success by deciding not to wait on the federal government and instead funding cannabis research of its own.
Over the summer, the state awarded $20 million in grant money for cannabis research at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University in Detroit. The research will focus on the potential for cannabis to treat veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain.
The grant money comes from state revenue generated through taxes on recreational marijuana sales. Wayne State University will receive about $12.5 million for research into PTSD, while the University of Michigan received about $7.5 million for research into chronic pain management.
States Taking the Lead on Cannabis Health
Michigan officials decided to take the lead with state-funded cannabis research because of the continued stalemate on cannabis legalization at the federal level. The federal Department of Veterans Affairs currently does not allow its clinicians to prescribe cannabis. Many veterans have taken the issue into their own hands, obtaining medical marijuana through VA channels.
“Public opinion has really outpaced science in terms of cannabinoid therapeutics,” Dr. Leslie Lundahl, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, told WXYZ, the ABC affiliate in Detroit.
“There are animal data that suggests it might be helpful, there are anecdotal reports that it might be helpful for pain or for PTSD or mood or anxiety, but we don’t really have any hard scientific data to really support that.”
While marijuana use does not prohibit veterans from obtaining services from the VA, the department does not allow any clinician to prescribe it. VA pharmacies may not fill prescriptions for medical marijuana.
Further, the VA does not pay for medical marijuana prescriptions from any source, and the use or possession of marijuana is prohibited at all VA medical centers, locations and grounds. “When you are on VA grounds it is federal law that is in force, not the laws of the state,” the VA warns.
The Two Studies Focus On Veterans
The Wayne State University study will study the impact of CBD and THC on those with PTSD. They will focus on PTSD symptom severity and the frequency of suicidal thoughts and behavior, one of the most troubling symptoms of PTSD. Researchers will also test cognitive function, monitor test subjects’ vital signs, and test blood and urine.
The University of Michigan plans to focus its research on the potential use of cannabis for veterans who suffered from chronic pain. In documents filed with the state to apply for the grant, university officials noted that more than 6,400 military veterans committed suicide in 2018. Chronic pain, including back pain and migraines, is associated with higher risks of dying by suicide among veterans.
Noting that “therapeutic cannabis research in this area is severely impeded by cannabis’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act,” University of Michigan officials said the proposed study could “investigate the effectiveness of cannabis-based therapies to treat veterans with chronic pain, towards the goal of reducing veteran suicide risk.”
While funded by the state of Michigan, both studies must obtain approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration.