Cancer, Lung Health and Pain: Colorado's Clinical Marijuana Studies

A lab worker stirs cannabis oil inside a commercial extraction facility.
A lab worker stirs cannabis oil inside a commercial extraction facility. Jacqueline Collins
Despite the federal government's hesitance to accept the plant's medical benefits, data from the National Library of Medicine shows America is home to nearly 60 percent of this 304 clinical marijuana studies going on around the world.

Virtually all of the 180 active clinical studies in the country are researching marijuana's potential medical benefits or health effects, such as how cannabinoids treat HIV-related neuropathic pain. Others are less serious, like the Battelle Memorial Institute's upcoming study, "Laboratory Smoking of Marijuana Blunts," which compares different flavored tobacco papers' product appeal and abuse having subjects smoke blunts.

It's important to note that a clinical study listed by the NLM doesn't mean the federal government has evaluated or approved the study's validity; the NLM places the responsibility of a study's validity on the researchers and sponsors. Still, at least 68 current clinical studies about the cannabis plant are sponsored by the feds — the same government that lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug, or a substance with no medical value.

What makes clinical studies special? Although they can be sponsored by private interests, clinical studies involve several test phases, participants and independent reviews to determine a substance's medical value or health effects. Commonly viewed as a rare occurrence because of federal prohibition, clinical studies about marijuana provide essential information for future laws and regulations surrounding medical and recreational use.

Colorado has sixteen active or future clinical marijuana studies, making it fourth highest in number of studies behind Connecticut (35), California (23) and New York (23). The majority of the studies in Colorado involved institutions such as the University of Colorado and Children's Hospital Colorado and are researching marijuana's effects on breast milk, cancer patients, chronic pain, Parkinson's and other ailments. Find more information on those clinical studies below.

Colorado Marijuana Users Health Cohort
: Information obtained during this study may identify new markers that influence the development of lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The Investigators are also interested in learning more about how marijuana affects sleep and insomnia.

Duration of Marijuana Concentration in Breast Milk: A Pilot Study
 Legalization has led to a perception of its safety, even though it's not been thoroughly studied in pregnant or lactating women. The psychoactive component of marijuana, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is lipophilic and therefore presumed to be secreted into breast milk. Additionally, it is unknown how the different  modes of consumption (ie. smoked vs. edible) affects THC concentration in breast milk. The purpose of this small pilot study is to track THC expression in breast milk among women who have evidence of THC exposure at the time of labor and delivery or within 72 hours of delivery. The researchers hypothesize that women who have THC in their urine within 72 hours of delivery may excrete THC in breast milk for a predicted period of time.

Pain Research: Innovative Strategies With Marijuana (PRISM)
Summary: This study tests the effects of cannabinoid levels in blood on pain relief, inflammation and cognitive dysfunction in chronic-pain patients who use edible cannabis. Over a two-week period, participants use an edible product of their choice. Blood levels of 9-delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) will be measured before, during and after the two-week exposure period to determine whether there are associations with pain, inflammation, sleep, physical activity, anxiety/depression and cognitive dysfunction. After the two-week period, participants will be followed for six months to collect data on cannabis use, pain levels, sleep quality and mental health symptoms.

Cannabis Versus Oxycodone for Pain Relief
This study investigates the ability of cannabis to reduce chronic back and neck pain and to reduce sensitivity to an acute painful stimulus. Cannabis will be compared to both oxycodone and a placebo.

Chronic Cannabis Smoking, Oxidative Stress and the Pulmonary Innate Immune Response
 This study plans to evaluate the effects of chronic cannabis smoking on lung health by evaluating its effects on pulmonary health, lung physiology and alveolar macrophage function.

The Influence of In Utero Cannabis Exposure on Neonatal Brain Morphology and Structural Connectivity Summary: Cannabis is the most commonly used drug by women during pregnancy; about 5.7 percent use it in Colorado. This pilot study will collect preliminary data on the impact of in-utero cannabis exposure to the brain.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell