Yale will study medical marijuana effect on stress, pain

Yale School of Medicine and medical marijuana producer CTPharma are partnering to study the drug’s effects on stress and pain, they announced Friday.

The research program, which is the fourth authorized through the state’s Department of Consumer Protection, will test effects of different dosages of medical marijuana in two studies over the next two years.

In the first study, participants will receive different doses of Cannabidiol, Tetrahydrocannabinol and placebos over a six-week period. “We want to measure what are the levels in the blood and in urine of the active ingredients that we’re giving, and then we want to know, what are its psychological and physiological effects,” Yale professor Rajita Sinha said.

That will include measuring vital signs and determining how long different amounts and combinations of the drugs take to peak and come down, she said. “Then, we’re going to actually challenge people in what we call stress and pain provocation.”

“It allows us to see how the physiology changes with that, and also how your own pain and stress ratings change with that, and whether the drugs are changing that,” Sinha said. “We will also then monitor mood, anxiety, stress levels, sleep and pain.”

The second study will focus on people with chronic pain, and test effects of chronic dosing of medical marijuana.

All of the marijuana products will come from CTPharma, and are produced in Connecticut.

“There’s obviously a big movement going on across the country to assess and think about how medical marijuana products can be useful to alleviate patients’ symptoms,” Sinha said. “We wanted to see if we could understand it better: How does it work? Who does it work for? What doses do we use? Can we learn more about it? Which symptoms can be alleviated?”

It’s taken two and a half years to get through the regulatory and approval processes, she said, and she hopes to have the first two studies completed within the next year and a half to two years.

The Department of Consumer Protection has authorized three other research programs through the Medical Marijuana Research Program, Commissioner Michelle Seagull said. One is looking “at pain more specifically,” another at the effects on cancer patients’ appetites, and a third on the “genetic impact of the product on patients,” she said.

The increased research is “really what physicians and prescribers want to understand before they encourage a patient to use medical marijuana, they always want more science,” Seagull said.

“We want to understand the positives and negatives, we want to understand where we can capture therapeutic potential and translate that into treatments and into preventions,” Sinha said.

Connecticut currently allows the use of medical marijuana for 36 conditions for adults, and 10 for children and teenagers. “We’re serving over 40,000 patients in the state of Connecticut and we have over 1,000 certified practitioners,” Seagull said.

Sinha said these studies, and research in the field of medical marijuana, have been shaped by lessons learned about the effects of opioids.

“We’ve certainly learned a lot from the opioid experience and opioid use disorders, and what therapeutic medicines in the opioid arena have done and what they’ve led to,” she said. “That learning has been critical in thinking about how we approach this,” Sinha said. One example is how knowledge about tolerance of psychoactive drugs, which have both physiological and psychological effects, has informed the study and some of the researchers’ questions, she said.

CTPharma’s board chairman, former Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele, said he hopes research like Yale’s lays the groundwork to draw more biotech industry to the state.

“There is significant biotechnical interest in research related to medical marijuana,” he said. “I believe that significant biotech industry will grow right here in Connecticut because of this type of study that is going on.”




Marijuana plants grow under lights at Cresco Labs medical marijuana cultivation facility in Joliet, Ill.

Liz Teitz