By Emma Richards
A consortium of nine universities in Florida, led by faculty at the University of Florida, is in the early stages of investigating the effectiveness of marijuana as a medical treatment.
Almut Winterstein, a professor at the University of Florida who also serves as the director of the Consortium for Medical Marijuana Outcomes Research, says there is promising data on pain therapy and epilepsy but much still to learn about cannabis as a medical treatment.
The Consortium for Medical Marijuana Outcomes Research is assessing the drug’s risks and benefits for different medical conditions and its safety and side effects when used alone or in conjunction with other prescription medications.
“What I can tell you is that right now there is promising and fairly solid data that supports the use of medical marijuana as an adjuvant for pain therapy,” said Almut Winterstein, a professor in the College of Pharmacy at UF who also serves as the director of the consortium. “And there’s also evidence that supports the use for certain types of epilepsy.”
As for other conditions, the impacts of medical marijuana are still unknown.
The Florida State Legislature created the consortium in 2019, four years after enacting legislation that permits use of marijuana for certain clinical conditions.
Currently, 37 states have a medical marijuana program, though the programs vary as far as how and to whom cannabis can be prescribed. But, Winterstein said, little is known about marijuana’s clinical safety and effectiveness.
“I think that the Legislature was really forward looking in creating something that supplements the research that is currently not sufficient,” she said in an episode of the From Florida Podcast.
The consortium will also gauge who is using and able to access medical marijuana and determine the benefits and drawbacks of different dosages. To do so, the group is working on three primary branches of research.
The first area is a competitive grants program that funds researchers across all participating universities.
The second branch is M3, or Medical Marijuana and Me, a new study that will track patients from their first use of medical marijuana for a year to assess their experiences.
“That will give us ideas about what type of dosage, form and product do patients eventually end up on,” Winterstein said. “That is a very empirical approach because we have no head-to-head comparison of what works better or worse, but we can capture patients’ experiences, what they think works, what doesn't, what kind of side effects they might experience and so on.”
Finally, what Winterstein calls the consortium’s “biggest baby and most important baby” is the Medical Marijuana Outcomes Research Repository, known as MEMORY. The repository will allow researchers to use de-identified dispensing data from the Department of Health to monitor health outcomes of the large population of 700,000 registered medical marijuana patients.
These data will give researchers insight on cannabis safety and effects, whether positive or negative, linking to healthcare utilization, such as hospitalization or emergency department visits.
The consortium is hosting the second annual Cannabis Clinical Outcomes Research Conference May, 19-20 in Orlando, where researchers will discuss the latest research on medical marijuana.
“We are really trying to get people interested in this topic,” Winterstein said. “And in particular making sure that they have access to objective information that really allows them to make the right decision with respect to the use of medical marijuana.”
Read a recent article quoting Professor Winterstein here:
Almut Winterstein Distinguished Professor
Almut Winterstein is an expert in drug safety and ways to improve medication use.