Last week, a Senate panel passed legislation requiring U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials to hold clinical trials on medicinal cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress and chronic pain.
Lawmakers discussed the Medicinal Cannabis Research Act briefly before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the measure during a closed session. Although Republicans on the committee strongly supported the VA studying the effects of marijuana on veterans for medicinal purposes, previous attempts to pass similar acts stalled in the full House. However, the most recent decision to pass the Medicinal Cannabis Research Act is a significant step forward.
Committee chairman Jon Tester of Montana made a statement with the introduction of the bill last week regarding the importance of the proposed legislation. It allows veterans more choices for dealing with their medical issues. He believes veterans deserve additional options for treating war wounds, and the VA should learn about the benefits of medicinal cannabis.
The bipartisan bill empowers veterans to make informed decisions about their health and how to treat their conditions. It also ensures the VA listens to veterans who get the relief they need from alternative treatments such as medical marijuana.
Can Cannabidiol Treat Psychosis?
Oxford scientists will conduct a global trial to determine whether it’s possible to treat psychosis or psychotic symptoms with cannabis-based medicine.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is currently only prescribed for a few specific medical conditions. For example, in the United Kingdom, doctors prescribe CBD to treat severe epilepsy and nausea or vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
Marijuana contains multiple components, including CBD. However, the CBD used to treat some health problems doesn’t contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component in marijuana that causes people to feel “high.”
The study will involve thirty-five centers worldwide. Most of the centers are in North America and Europe. The University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry will coordinate the study. It received £16.5m from Wellcome, a charitable foundation that funds research on mental health, climate change, and infectious disease.
Professor Philip McGuire of the University of Oxford will lead the trial. He believes cannabidiol is a promising new treatment for psychosis patients. Previous studies on a smaller scale indicate CBD’s benefits, and many people with psychosis want to try it.
There will be 1,000 people participating in the stratification and treatment in early psychosis (Step) program, including those with psychosis who did not respond to conventional treatment and those who have only had one episode of psychosis.
Jazz Pharmaceuticals, a global biopharmaceutical company, supplied CBD for the study for free.
McGuire explained how the study would include treating already-established psychosis in participants. It will also investigate whether CBD can prevent the onset of psychosis for those at risk of developing it. He expressed his gratitude to Wellcome and Jazz Pharmaceuticals for helping this study proceed and believes it can offer a new treatment option for psychosis.
How the Study Will Work
Epidyolex is the form of cannabidiol researchers will use during the study. It is already approved to treat epilepsy in some children and adults.
The head of mental health translation at Wellcome, Lynsey Bilsland, expressed her excitement about the program. She believes it will help discover whether CBD can treat psychosis at different stages by testing its effectiveness on a larger scale.
Although antipsychotics are the standard treatment for psychosis, they come with side effects causing patients to quit taking them. They also aren’t effective for everyone since some respond differently to these medications than others. The challenges many people face in finding treatments that work for them require researchers to explore alternative therapies like CBD.
Besides studying the effects of CBD on psychosis, the researchers will also try to identify biomarkers that indicate a patient could respond to the treatment positively. That would allow doctors to personalize treatments for each patient’s unique needs in the future.
Moving the Legislation Through Congress
Alaska Republican Senator Dan Sullivan co-sponsored the Medicinal Cannabis Research Act. The full Senate might consider whether to pass the measure in the coming weeks.
House Representatives Lou Correa and Jack Bergman introduced companion legislation in the House. It would authorize the VA to establish a comprehensive research plan to study medicinal cannabis and its effects on veterans’ quality of life.
The clinical trials would determine how the drug directly impacts specific medical conditions and the effects of cannabis delivery in multiple potencies, forms, and methods. Although the legislation doesn’t address the number of veterans the research will involve, a large-scale study is necessary.
The National Academies of Sciences studied the effects of marijuana and cannabis-derived products on numerous medical conditions. A committee reviewed over 10,000 scientific abstracts and published a report of its findings. The evidence shows cannabis can help treat depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorders.
However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. The Schedule I classification includes other drugs, chemicals, and substances with a high potential for abuse and no acceptable medical use. That brings the possibility of federal research on cannabis-based products for treating psychosis to a screeching halt.
Fighting Federal Marijuana Laws
Cannabis activists and veterans’ groups are fighting to change the classification of cannabis under federal law. They argue that anecdotal evidence supports the benefits of medical marijuana.
Although many United States veterans currently use medicinal marijuana, there isn’t enough scientific data to understand the potential benefits and side effects. Marijuana is legal for medical purposes in 37 states, the District of Columbia, and three U.S. territories, but VA doctors can’t prescribe it.
Twenty veterans’ groups signed a petition supporting the Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). CEO Jeremy Butler made a statement about IAVA making it a priority to empower veterans to use cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Among all IAVA members, 88% support medical marijuana research. Veterans consistently discuss the positive effects cannabis has on treating the injuries they develop after returning from war.
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