RESEARCHERS TO STUDY EFFECTS OF CONCENTRATES
Researchers at CU Boulder were recently awarded a grant by the State of Colorado to fund a study on the effects of cannabis, which is a Schedule I drug per federal law. The investigation will aim to evaluate the public health implications of smoking cannabis (marijuana) concentrates, which are known for their high potency.
This grant is the first of its kind to be awarded for cannabis research. The Institute of Cognitive Science (ICS) at CU Boulder was awarded the $839,500 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). The study is led by head investigator L. Cinnamon Bidwell, an Assistant Research Professor at CU Boulder, who will be working with CU Psychology and Neuroscience Professors Angela Bryan and Kent Hutchison as her co-investigators.
Subjects will be under the influence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which, according to a study commissioned in 2015 by the Colorado Department of Revenue (CDR), “is the main cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant and is responsible for the majority of the plant’s psychoactive properties.” The CDR employed CU Boulder Leeds School of Business and the Marijuana Policy Group for their 2015 study.
Concentrates come in the form of waxes, shatters, and oils. “These concentrates are basically extracted cannabis. The THC levels can be as high as 95 percent,” Bidwell stated in an interview with the CU Boulder Today.
Smoking concentrates—colloquially known as “dabbing”—involves placing the cannabis concentrate on a preheated surface known as the “nail.” The user inhales the vapors emitted from a pipe specifically used for dabbing.
The program will span three years and 135 participants will be part of the study, which is scheduled to begin this April. Gaining permissions to begin this testing wasn’t simple. Researchers are not able to provide the drug, nor be present while the participants are dabbing due the the federal classification of marijuana as a controlled substance per the Drug Enforcement Division.
Since cannabis is federally illegal, a workaround was developed in order for the study to abide by federal and research laws. Once the participants are selected, Bidwell and her assistants will schedule to meet with their subjects after they have “dabbed” at a designated location, such as the subject’s home. The study will be conducted inside of a redesigned Dodge Sprinter van, which will be outfitted with a portable lab in which subjects will have different cognitive tests performed on them, as well as have blood drawn for testing.
Voters passed Amendment 64 in 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana, and in a 2016 memo the CDPHE noted that “the General Assembly authorized additional funding to study potential public health and safety impacts of legalized retail marijuana.” The CDPHE issued a total of $2.35 million this past December to seven applicants, one of which was the ICS researchers at CU Boulder.
“In the context of research study, nobody has assessed how intoxicating these are or studied the effects on public health behaviors like driving,” Bidwell stated in an interview with the CU Boulder Today.
Late last year the CDPHE detailed some of the other grants went toward research on comparing driving impairment for low and heavy cannabis users, studying the duration of time marijuana stays in a mother’s breast milk, and analyzing recreational use among college-age students preceding and following its legalization.