Colorado Will Spend $10 Million Researching Marijuana's Medical Benefits

05/21/2014 01:46 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2014

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed a bill Wednesday that will fund up to $10 million for research into the medical efficacy of marijuana.

"SB 155 invests the dollars collected from medical marijuana fees into a meaningful effort to study the therapeutic and medical benefits of the drug," state Rep. Crisanta Duran (D), a co-sponsor of the bill, told The Huffington Post. "Patients will benefit from this investment and Colorado will become a national leader in developing medical marijuana research."

The bill states the research will help Colorado determine which medical conditions should be added to the state's current list of eight ailments that make patients eligible for medical marijuana. It will also help physicians better understand the biochemical effects of prescribed marijuana, add to the growing base of knowledge built from several state-funded medical cannabis research programs about proper dosing and possibly allow the state to conduct clinical trials, the bill outlines.

"This bill is exciting because it gives researchers the opportunity to show why and how marijuana works, and to do research that the federal government refuses to conduct," Mike Elliott of Marijuana Industry Group told HuffPost.

The research will be funded through the state's $10 million medical marijuana program cash fund.

"More information is needed to further understand potential therapeutic uses of marijuana and its component parts," the Medical Marijuana Health Effects Grant Program bill reads. "Research on the therapeutic effects of marijuana and its component parts could benefit thousands of Coloradans who suffer from additional debilitating medical conditions that do not respond to conventional treatments and are not currently permissible medical conditions for medical marijuana use."

Colorado legalized marijuana for medical use in 2000. There are currently more than 115,000 patients on the state registry.

A number of studies in recent years have demonstrated the medical potential of cannabis. Purified forms of cannabis can be effective at attacking some forms of aggressive cancer. Marijuana use has also been tied to better blood sugar control and may help slow the spread of HIV. Legalization of the plant for medical purposes may even lead to lower suicide rates.

Earlier this year, the federal government signed off on a historic study looking at marijuana as a treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The study will examine the effects of five different potencies of smoked or vaporized cannabis on 50 veterans suffering from PTSD.

Nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD, according to a 2012 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Scientists have speculated that marijuana could help veterans suffering from PTSD symptoms, which can include anxiety, flashbacks and depression.

There are 10 states that allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana for PTSD-related symptoms. However, Colorado is not one of them, despite multiple efforts to add the condition to the state's approved treatment list.

Families of children and young people seeking medical marijuana have also made headlines recently for moving to Colorado from other states to take advantage of the expansive medical marijuana laws.

Parents are also coming to Colorado in search of one of the most coveted strains of medical marijuana available: Charlotte's Web, which is named after 7-year-old Charlotte Figi who used to suffer from hundreds of seizures a week, but after two years of treatment is now at more than "99 percent seizure control", according to her mother, Paige. The medicinal strain, high in CBD, the non-psychoactive ingredient in pot, and low in THC, which causes users to feel "high," was developed by the Colorado Springs-based nonprofit group Realm of Caring and has been effectively treating children with debilitating illnesses and conditions.

The number of minors on Colorado's medical marijuana patient registry has been surging over the past year. As of March, 285 minors had state-issued medical marijuana cards -- that's up from only 35 minors from the same month in 2013.

Charlotte's Web and similar strains are administered in liquid or capsule form and, according to doctors, produce few to no side effects. Because of the low THC content, users don't experience the "high" associated with traditional marijuana.

Still, the federal government continues to ban the plant in any form, classifying it as a Schedule I substance "with no currently accepted medical use."

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