Anschutz begins clinical marijuana trial research

Photo: Korina Rojo - CU Sentry


Marijuana and oxycodone will be used to conduct a clinical trial to study their effects on easing spine pain. Researchers at CU Anschutz School of Medicine officially began the early stages of this study in July. Some of their recruitment flyers seeking volunteers for the research could be seen throughout CU Denver elevators on campus at the beginning of the Fall semester.

Researchers intend to study the effects that marijuana has on chronic neck and back pain in comparison to the painkiller oxycodone. The clinical trial will be lead by Dr. Emily Lindley, who is a CU Assistant Professor in the Orthopedics Department at Anschutz. Interest in this study began when Lindley learned that her spine patients were willingly disclosing to their primary physicians how cannabis had been aiding in subsiding their back pain.

This is where Lindley and her spine surgeon colleagues developed interest in studying the plant. The earliest steps of this study involved surveying patients. The survey resulted in 20 percent of patients admitting that marijuana eased their back pain.

“We wanted to compare cannabis to a medication that is commonly prescribed to patients for chronic spine pain,” Dr. Lindley said. “This way we could have a comparator of something that they would be taking in real life for treating their pain.”

While there are various ways of consuming cannabis, from applying topicals on skin to ingesting and smoking, Lindley’s team has opted for having patients “vape” the plant for their research. Lindley’s spine study will have their volunteers inhale marijuana vapor from an apparatus designed for this use.

Some of the tests patients would be given include measurement of vital signs and pain tolerance tests. Dr. Lindley spoke about the ways pain is measured. “We’re using a device that we developed with engineering colleagues up in Boulder, and it’s a computer controlled pressure algometer,” Dr. Lindley said. A total of 100 patients would be in this clinical trial, 50 would be chronic spine patients and 50 patients would be healthy controls.

Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000, and voters approved its recreational use and sale in 2014. Despite cannabis being federally illegal, the ability to obtain the plant for research has been made possible thanks to the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

“The only way that you can do research with cannabis here in the US is to get it through the federally approved NIDA,” Dr. Lindley said. “They have a grow farm at the University of Mississippi, and that is where they grow it and process it, then ship it for research purposes.”

This research team was one of eight groups in Colorado to earn a grant from the
Colorado Department of Public Health for cannabis research. These grants stem from an excess in medical marijuana patient fees collected from Colorado. Dr. Lindley’s research will be completed in Summer 2019.

Photo: Korina Rojo – CU Sentry

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