A Colorado State University researcher is launching a crowdfunding campaign to study the effects of long-term marijuana use among multiple sclerosis patients in northern Colorado.
CSU is quick to point out that the research project will not involve providing cannabis or encouraging its use. The study will “simply examine existing users who have decided to treat their MS symptoms with medical marijuana and voluntarily agree to participate in the study,” the university said.
Thorsten Rudroff, director of CSU’s Integrative Neurophysiology Lab, would like to conduct tests on at least 20 MS patients in northern Colorado who already are using medical marijuana and compare them with members of a control group of the same size who do not.
Rudroff said Colorado, which voted to allow medical marijuana use in 2000, is an ideal location for the study.
He notes that local clinicians estimate that up to 50 percent of their patients are using marijuana to alleviate symptoms.
“Marijuana use may have additional benefits, such as improving motor function, but this is all based on anecdotal evidence,” Rudroff said. “We don’t have scientific evidence that this is working, so we think this research could provide valuable information.”
“This research,” he said, “can’t be done in many other states that don’t have the same marijuana laws.”
What we know
Also, Colorado is an ideal area for the study because the state has one of the highest rates of MS in the country, he said. An estimated 2.7 million people worldwide live with MS, 550,000 of whom live in the U.S., according to Rudroff’s crowdfunding video, which notes that one in 420 Coloradans live with the disease.
Rudroff, an assistant professor in CSU’s Department of Health and Exercise Science, said MS patients typically display lower-than-average glucose uptake in the brain and spinal cord, along with unnecessary muscle firing in the legs or in one side of the body, which may cause weakness and fatigue.
He will look at whether the scans of MS patients who take medical marijuana display more efficient muscle activation or changes in the central nervous system’s glucose intake by injecting a sugar-based tracer into subjects’ veins before they exercise on the treadmill.
Afterward, the PET/CT scan shows the extent to which the tracer was consumed as an energy source by tissue in the brain, spinal cord and lower extremities.
“With MS, something along that path from the brain to the legs goes wrong,” Rudroff said. “Maybe cannabis somehow improves this drive to the muscles.”
He decided to go the crowdsourcing route because of the growing competition for federal grants. Rudroff hopes to raise at least $7,000.
Donations can be made via CSU’s CHARGE! crowdfunding website at col.st/nsg6F.
Rudroff hopes the results from the study will help him land grants from agencies such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and National Institutes of Health for more research.
In addition to physical tests and scans, Rudroff launched an anonymous survey on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s website that asks those who have the neurological disease about their medical marijuana use.
That survey is available at col.st/Rvg4K.
A landmark analysis published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that medical marijuana hasn’t yet been proven to remedy most of the conditions governments have authorized it to treat. But the JAMA analysis did note the science behind cannabis as legitimate treatment for four conditions, including spasticity from multiple sclerosis — and severe pain, nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy.
Monte Whaley: 720-929-0907, firstname.lastname@example.org or @montewhaley
Staff writer Ricardo Baca contributed to this report.