Drexel University received a $3.3 million National Institutes of Health grant to fund a five-year study investigating medical marijuana use among young adults between the ages of 18 and 26, according to a press release issued late last week.
Titled "Medical Marijuana, Emerging Adults & Community: Connecting Health and Policy," the study, which began July 1 under the supervision of Drexel Public School of Health associate professor Stephen Lankenau, is the first large-scale NIH-funded research project into young adult marijuana use.
That's because federal funding of medical marijuana studies to date has been minimal – the drug remains under federal law a Schedule 1 controlled substance, a category that also includes heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
As a result, most existing marijuana research studies are either relatively small or involve secondary data analysis without the direct recruitment and study of medical marijuana users, according to a release from Drexel University.
Lankenau said he hopes the Drexel study’s findings will eventually guide local, state and national medical marijuana policies to create the most positive health outcomes for young adults and communities.
During the study, researchers will attempt to determine the impact of Los Angeles' medical marijuana policies on young adults' physical and psychological health.
They'll be investigating whether young adults' intensity of marijuana use, as well as attendant abuse of alcohol, prescription and illicit drugs, differs depending on whether they are using the drug under a doctor's supervision, in such areas where medical marijuana is legal.
"Dispensaries are a relatively new and unusual institution, and they haven’t been studied much," Lankenau said in a statement.
"One study hypothesis is that dispensaries, which often provide social support in addition to medical marijuana, may provide the basis for better physical and psychological outcomes for medical marijuana users, compared to non-medical users who purchase the drug on the black market."
Beginning in the fall, Lankenau, along with co-investigator Ellen Iverson at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, will recruit 380 young medical marijuana patients and young non-medical marijuana patients.
Baseline interviews and surveys are expected to be completed by early next year, with participants then completing annual followup interviews for three years.
"The young adults we recruit into this study represent an important group," Lankenau said in a release.
"This population will have many years of their lives ahead to experience the consequences, whether positive or negative, of policies that allow for medical marijuana use."
Researchers said the study was borne from the preliminary discoveries of an earlier NIH-funded project that found Los Angeles participants who had a physician recommendation for medical marijuana used the drug differently than residents elsewhere who used marijuana without a prescription.
It was also inspired by the fact that, since medical marijuana first became legal in California 17 years ago, the list of health conditions eligible to receive a prescription has grown to more than 200, resulting in a growing number of young people accessing the drug with a medical recommendation.