History was just made on Monday by the National Institutes of Health. The NIH, a federally funded program under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Health and Services, the agency charged with protecting the health and welfare of the nation. Just awarded, the first EVER federally funded grant to study the correlation between marijuana and the reduction of chronic pain in adult opioid patients.
The NIH awarded a five-year $3.8 million grant to the researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System to launch the study. It is titled “Does medical cannabis reduce opioid analgesics in HIV+ and HIV- adults with pain?” (1R01DA044171-01A1)
The researchers are focusing on HIV patients because they typically endure the most amount of chronic pain. As noted by the scientists at Albert Einstein, between 25% and 90% of adults with HIV suffer from chronic pain, and adults with HIV are likely to receive opioids to help manage their pain. The study will use 250 HIV positive patients and include 250 who test negative as their control.
“There is a lack of information about the impact of medical marijuana on opioid use in those with chronic pain,” says Chinazo Cunningham, M.D., M.S., associate chief of general internal medicine at Einstein and Montefiore and principal investigator on the grant. “We hope this study will fill in the gaps and provide doctors and patients with some much needed guidance.”
According to a press release from the organization, “researchers have never studied—in any population—if the use of medical marijuana over time reduces the use of opioids. Additionally, there are no studies on how the specific chemical compounds of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), affect health outcomes, like pain, function, and quality of life. Most studies that have reported negative effects of long-term marijuana use have focused on illicit, rather than medical, marijuana.”
“As state and federal governments grapple with the complex issues surrounding opioids and medical marijuana, we hope to provide evidence-based recommendations that will help shape responsible and effective healthcare practices and public policies,” Dr. Cunningham said.
Dr. Cunningham and his colleagues will be studying the effects on marijuana and opioid use for the next 18 months in New York. Study subjects will complete online questionnaires every two weeks, give blood and urine, talk to researchers about their pain and opioid use. Hopefully, at the end of the study we will have some concrete evidence the federal government will use to actually legalize the herb, the one medicine without side effects doctors can’t prescribe.
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