By Matt Splett
The State University System of Florida Board of Governors has selected the University of Florida to lead a statewide consortium studying health outcomes related to medical marijuana.
UF will lead the Consortium for Medical Marijuana Clinical Outcomes Research, which will be composed of public and private universities engaged in research on clinical outcomes of medical marijuana.
As the lead institution, UF will receive $1.5 million in annual recurrent funding from the state of Florida to support the research mission of the consortium. The consortium will evaluate the safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana, consider dosing and routes of administration, including study of the effects of smoking medical marijuana versus other methods of consumption.
“There is an urgent need to enhance the evidence base related to the emerging marijuana and cannabis market in Florida,” said Almut Winterstein, Ph.D., a professor and chair of pharmaceutical outcomes and policy in the UF College of Pharmacy and director of the UF Center for Drug Evaluation and Safety. “UF has been involved with the Florida Medical Marijuana Program since 2014 and is well-prepared to leverage its extensive research infrastructure and broad faculty expertise to investigate the safe and effective use of medical marijuana in the state of Florida. As with any other medical treatment, providers, patients and regulators need the necessary information to evaluate its benefits and risks.”
The research infrastructure proposed by UF will focus on three primary activities to support the consortium: build a data repository known as the Medical Marijuana Clinical Outcomes Repository, or MEMORY, that can track patient outcomes over time; develop a Clinical Research Core, which will provide infrastructure support for prospective studies; and establish a competitive grants program offering $600,000 annually from the state appropriation to participating institutions.
If approved by the consortium’s board, Winterstein will serve as the director of the consortium, administer the grants program and build the MEMORY repository, which will link the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use dispensing data with other data sets that allow tracking of clinical outcomes. The repository will be available to researchers within the consortium and create a statewide resource for real-world health outcomes research related to medical marijuana.
UF has proposed appointing Robert Cook, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of epidemiology and internal medicine in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF College of Medicine to direct the Clinical Research Core. Cook currently leads a five-year, NIH-funded research study examining the health effects of marijuana that involves several universities in Florida.
The core will assemble a group of physicians and clinical partners to recruit patients for medical marijuana research studies. In addition, the core plans to conduct a survey of medical marijuana providers in Florida, engage a scientific expert group and provide opportunities for the public and industry to help inform the most urgent clinical research priorities.
“Throughout Florida, over 200,000 people are currently registered to receive medical marijuana, including people suffering from severe and life-threatening health conditions,” Cook said. “Our consortium’s responsibility is to address this important public health need by supporting research that focuses on clinical health and safety outcomes among persons using it. Our goal is to be as objective as possible.”
At UF, nearly 20 extramurally funded marijuana research studies have been initiated in the past five years. Researchers are examining the health benefits and risks of medical marijuana from multiple perspectives, including outcomes research related to HIV infection; chronic pain in older adults; and cannabidiol treatment for children with drug-resistant epilepsy.