Pitt plans to begin research on the effects of medical marijuana



Pitt’s School of Medicine will soon begin research partnerships to study medical marijuana. TNS

By Alexa Bakalarski / Assistant News Editor

Following Pennsylvania’s legalization of medical marijuana last April, Pitt is now looking to take the lead on researching the drug’s treatment efficacy.

Pitt’s School of Medicine sent a letter to School of Medicine colleagues, including faculty members, last week stating the school’s intention to distribute guidelines for research partnerships with medical marijuana companies.

Arthur Levine, dean of Pitt’s School of Medicine, said Pitt plans to research short- and long-term effects of medical marijuana in diseases and disorders, such as autism and Crohn’s disease.

“The goal [of the research] is to determine the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana in one or more of the diseases and disorders identified by the state,” Levine said in an email.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill in April legalizing a medical marijuana program for serious medical conditions in Pennsylvania. The bill identified the medical conditions for which patients could get a medical marijuana prescription and outlined an application process for research studies and funding sources for research.

Thirty percent of a 5 percent tax on marijuana sales will go toward research funding. The bill made Pennsylvania the 24th state in the United States to have a medical marijuana program.

Under the bill, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health will form a database of the medical conditions for which patients can be prescribed medical marijuana and by what method — in pill or gel form, for example. Once the database has 25 or more patients with the same medical condition, the department can apply for the study to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

After the plan for the research study is publicly announced, a Pennsylvania medical school with an acute care hospital such as Pitt’s can submit a request to participate.

The temporary regulations in the medical marijuana bill require “clinical registrants” — medical marijuana businesses — to enter into a contract with medical schools that operate with a hospital, like the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

If the FDA and DEA approve the study, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health can select a university or health system to conduct the study and designate how the study will be continued. If the FDA and DEA reject the study, then the department can submit another request for a study on the same medical condition after continuing to collect data for the original database.

The amount of funding devoted to the research will depend on the clinical research Pitt undertakes and what funds are available for that specific research, Levine said. He also said the funds must be provided by a licensed grower or dispensary.

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