Penn State medical marijuana researchers to study ‘benefits and risks’ of cannabis as treatment

The Department of Health has approved eight research universities, paired with eight medical marijuana growers, to learn more about the usefulness and drawbacks of cannabis as a treatment. Penn State College of Medicine and marijuana grower Pennsylvania Options for Wellness is one such pair, and officials for the research partnership spoke about the plan Monday on WITF Smart Talk.

With the research plan, Pennsylvania is about to become an unprecedented hotbed of research into how cannabis interacts with chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and other medical conditions, said PA Options for Wellness CEO Tom Trite.

“We will be finding, and will be reporting, both the good and the bad.”

Medical marijuana research lags behind other pharmaceutical sectors due to long-standing opposition and because the plant remains on the list of federally prohibited drugs, said Penn State research director Dr. Kent Vrana.

“Congress made it clear, while it is a federal felony, federal funds cannot be used to prosecute the states,” Vrana said. “So in a sense, we have safe harbor here.”

Recreational cannabis is often cultivated to have a high dose of THC, the compound that gets people high, Vrana noted. The research project allows them to grow and test strains of the drug that have lower doses of THC that may be better suited for medical use.

The pair is one of eight such teams across the state, paid for by the medical marijuana growers.

Vrana said this kind of research is long overdue, and allows scientists to look at carefully-produced marijuana designed to reduce symptoms like pain and nausea rather than to get people high.

“And we’re not in the business of getting people high,” Vrana said. “We’re in the business of figuring out what works for a specific disease.”

Trite said the research also will help doctors to move past “anecdotal” success stories about medical marijuana, and instead base their decisions on scientific research. At the same time, the strict quality controls make sure the drug is consistent and free of harmful chemicals.

“You’re going to know what you’re getting because we test it, and in addition to that, it gets sent out to a neutral lab,” Trite said.

More than 110,000 people in Pennsylvania have received permits to use medical marijuana, according to Department of Health.