SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Proposition 2 has put the spotlight on medical marijuana in Utah, and a local university is on the leading edge of studying the potential benefits.
On the campus of the University of Utah, Dr. Karen Wilcox and her team at the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology are hard at work.
As a contract site funded by the Epilepsy Therapy Screening Program, part of their mission is to find new treatment options for the debilitating condition.
“Patients with epilepsy, about 30% of them, don’t have their seizures adequately controlled with existing drugs,” said Wilcox.
One thing showing promise is cannabidiol, or CBD oil, an extract of marijuana.
The team has been conducting studies for about four years on the impact and has published the results.
“We have found that CBD can be very efficacious in preclinical studies of different types of seizures and epilepsy models.”
Those studies aren’t limited to CBD. They are also trying to understand how other extracts of marijuana could one day provide relief.
“What we are really hoping to find is if there is a balance between THC and cannabidiol that might work even better in different types of epilepsy.”
They are also looking at the potential of marijuana for pain management.
Funding for that comes from the Helping End Addiction Long-term or HEAL Initiative.
That was established just recently as part of the national fight against the opioid epidemic.
“So that patients could take compounds that aren’t opioids and don’t have the addictive properties, and it’s thought that perhaps CBD or other marijuana extracts might actually work in those models as well.”
Exciting times for the team, but the work can also be cumbersome because of the illegal substance status of marijuana.
They are able to participate through maintaining a Schedule I license and working closely with the DEA.
“It’s a time-consuming process. And so, organizations such as the American Epilepsy Society, the American Academy of Neurologists have said, to really be able to study these compounds quickly and more cheaply and on a faster timeline it would be great if these could be rescheduled.”
It would also allow Dr. Wilcox and her team to focus more on what they do best.
“I really like this work, because you see the potential that things you do every day could help people, help patients shortly,” said Ph.D. graduate student Glenna Wallis.
While the University of Utah is playing a crucial role in potential breakthrough findings with medical marijuana, they do not take a position on the politics behind it.