Marijuana Myths to be put to Rest
Posted by Marijuana Doctors on 07/26/2013 in Medical Marijuana Research
Professor Stephen Lankenau of Drexel University, along with his team of researchers have received a grant from the National Institutes of Health for the first time in history, to conduct a large public health study of medical marijuana use among young adults.
The associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Prevention is hoping that the study will provide data to hopefully compare and contrast nonmedical recreational marijuana users and medical marijuana patients. The grant given to the study, entitled, “Medical Marijuana, Emerging Adults & Community Connecting Health and Policy,” is providing $3.3 million in financial funds over the span of the next five years.
Lankenau plans to recruit 380 subjects from the city of Los Angeles between the ages of 18 and 26. This sample will include both medical marijuana patients and recreational marijuana users. After the initial interview following their recruitment, individuals involved in the study will be closely tracked for the longevity of the study, including three more interviews. And though the study is expected to generate a sufficient amount of quantitative data, Lankenau plans to interview a smaller, subsample of 40 recreational marijuana users to in hopes of gaining insight into qualitative aspects of the drug use. All data collected in Los Angeles will be relayed to Drexel University, where Lankenau and other graduate students will decipher data analysis.
The study, Lankenau says, has emerged as a means of investigation into the phenomenon that has arisen with the national spread of medical marijuana legalization over the past few decades. Beginning in 1996 in California with Proposition 215, medical marijuana legalization has been sweeping the nation. Now, as of just a few days ago, in 19 states. Lankenau explained that a division of the NIH, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, has decided upon further investigation to better inform the general public on both the benefits and risks of marijuana use.
The study was, in fact, NIDA’s idea entirely. Back in 2010, they had put out a request for study proposals on the subject of medical marijuana. Lankenau’s response granted him the funds to further carry it out.
Prior to this marijuana study, the National Institute of Drug Abuse had not solicited encouraging research studies on medical marijuana up until that point, Lankenau said. He had previously conducted a study on the issue of marijuana use and abuse in Los Angeles. “We found some things that intrigued us and formed the basis of some hypotheses,” said Lankenau.
His current study is based on a similar foundational hypothesis that he is hoping can either be proven or disproven by studying both groups over the course of the next five years. The first is deemed the legitimate patient hypothesis. Typically, medical marijuana is prescribed to patients suffering from such conditions as chronic pain, anxiety, AIDS, glaucoma and frequent debilitating muscle spasms.
Opponents of medical marijuana argue that patients have the ability to fake ailments, and this study hopes to provide a factual platform accessing the legitimacy behind patients’ claims. By comparing medical histories of the two groups of users, this study aims to provide a similar legitimacy to the use of marijuana as medicine.
Conducted in LA, these interviews led by co-investigator Ellen Inverson, will question patients about the efficacy of marijuana in relieving their symptoms, working to evaluate its medical properties. Lankenau predicts that this will offer further insight into the gateway drug hypothesis.
Stating that this hypothesis is not necessarily true, this study will work to disprove the assumption that marijuana leads to harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine. In hopes of tackling this debate, the study will look at the effects of marijuana use for both groups.
The study will also be examining what is known as the protective factor of legalized marijuana. From previous research conducted in the Netherlands, where recreational marijuana is legal, regular use is not as frequent, converting marijuana from a stepping stone drug to a stepping-off point.
“Once these individuals had regular access to marijuana, they stepped off harder drug use, so it served as a kind of a protective factor,” said Lankenau. He hopes to determine, from the study’s results, whether medical marijuana patients will have significantly lower rates of harder drug use as opposed to recreational marijuana users.
As the participants will enter the study either medical marijuana patients or recreational marijuana users, Lankenau is looking forward to examining the crossovers between the groups and determining the switch from legal to illegal use and vice versa.
An example Lankenau gives is a local dispensary’s closure prompting an individual with a prescription or recommendation to begin buying from the black market out of necessity. He hopes that data found describing these potential conversions will work to develop a solidified natural history of marijuana use among both types of users. As with all studies, the data that will be collected over the next five years could possibly lead to further findings that were not notably anticipated.
“In the course of learning about one group, you learn about another,” explained Lankenau.