In addition to alleviating pain, the research team is hoping to stem the country’s deadly opioid epidemic.
While anecdotal accounts of cannabis’s painkilling properties abound, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) wants to provide scientific evidence by using randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled studies, reported NBC News.
“The public consumption of cannabis has already far outpaced our scientific understanding,” said Chen, director of UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative. “We really desperately need to catch up.”
The goal of the research program is to conduct a high-quality study using opioid patients.
Edythe London, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at UCLA’s medical school, said she designed the study to test different combinations of THC and CBD.
Dr. London told NBC News that the study seeks to ascertain which combination of THC and CBD “produces the most good,” while also reducing pain and use of opioids among the study’s volunteers.
“We're not trying to do pro-cannabis research or anti-cannabis research. We're just trying to do good science,” said London.
In one of two five-year studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that states with medical marijuana laws had about 6 percent fewer opioid prescriptions among Medicaid patients compared with states without such laws.
The second study, which looked at Medicare Part D patients, found a drop of 8.5 percent in such prescriptions in the legal medical marijuana states.
Opioid overdoses killed 42,000 Americans in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Although illegally manufactured drugs like fentanyl and heroin account for some of the deaths, 40 percent involved a legal prescription for opioids, according to the CDC.
In that cannabis is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug, funding for research is hard to come by. Dr. Chen said the initiative has received funds from the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, federal and state sources, and private donors.
Before the study can begin, researchers also need approval from the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration.