Johns Hopkins University To Spend $10 Million Studying Medical Cannabis

Despite the leaps and bounds made in the last ten years or so with regard to cannabis legalization and its use in medical settings, a large hole in research data still exists that a new federally-funded study at a world-renowned university aims to address.
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A new multi-million dollar study at Johns Hopkins University aims to analyze how patients nationwide respond to medical cannabis treatments. 

Johns Hopkins University, which championed one of the largest and most widely referenced studies on medical applications of psilocybin mushrooms, announced the launch of a medical cannabis study in the winter edition of their Brainwise newsletter. 

According to the newsletter, the study will take a nationally representative sample of about 10,000 medical cannabis patients in an attempt to “fill [the] information gap” that exists when comparing medical cannabis knowledge to other elements of modern medicine. In other words, they are attempting to learn just as much about cannabis and how it can be used to treat medical maladies as other potential treatments which have all typically undergone extensive peer-reviewed scrutiny before ever being used in a medical setting. Cannabis is already used nationwide to treat a range of ailments like pain management, anxiety and ADHD but little is certain about long-term practical efficacy of such treatments other than anecdotal information from people who say it helps them. 

“We have the availability of cannabis as a therapeutic, but we’re lacking the quality of data that we have with other medicines,” said a written statement by Ryan Vandrey, one of the initiative’s creators and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Our mission with this research is to understand the health impacts of therapeutic cannabis use,”Vandrey said. “We hope to provide some starting points for understanding what types of products may or may not be helpful and what types of products may be more risky for use in certain populations or for certain therapeutic purposes.”

The initiative is supported by a five-year, $10 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and plans to collect data from patients such as methods of ingestion (smoking, edibles, vaping etc.), dosage, interactions with other medications and the chemical composition of different products. 

 “We’re tracking them with multiple assessments over the course of their first year with more tightly spaced assessments toward the beginning because our assumption is that as people are starting their medical cannabis journey, they’re likely going to try different products until they find the products that best help them with their symptoms,” said Johannes Thrul, associate professor of mental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who is collaborating on this project with Vandrey. 

One of the issues with quantifying, analyzing or studying cannabis in general is that it’s such a versatile plant that can be ingested and used in so many different fashions that it has somewhat puzzled medical and pharmaceutical professionals in the past who tend to rely on cut-and-dry medications which can be easily patented. This is not the case with cannabis products or cannabis users which tend to vary greatly. How does one compare the experience of dabbing to combustion of flower or distillate gummies to hash gummies without extensive study that, up until recently, was ineligible for any form of federal funding. The new Johns Hopkins study aims to put a dent in that research deficit. 

“Under the umbrella term of cannabis exist hundreds of products that are all different in very important and significant ways,” Vandrey said. “We’re trying to narrow the scope a little bit, find areas of real promise and focus the science on those.”

Vandrey said that the data from this study could have practical applications across the board from guiding decisions made in clinical settings, to legislative policy decisions, to providing regulations for additional clinical trials. This is even more evident based on the policy and clinical decisions which have already been made from the aforementioned psilocybin study which paved the way for decriminalization in several cities across the country as well as additional clinical trials and direct legalization for medical use in states like Oregon. 

The researchers at Johns Hopkins will be working closely with the National Institute on Drug Abuse as well as Realm of Caring, a Colorado-based nonprofit that provides information about cannabinoid therapies. The researchers will analyze and track data from patients over a year or more of their own respective cannabis-based treatments.

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