The state has awarded $2.7 million for research into how medical marijuana could replace opioids to ease chronic spinal pain — and how it might treat irritability in children and adolescents with autism.

The research will be conducted at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, the state Department of Public Health and Environment announced this week.

Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order in June that cited the autism study as a fiscal priority after he vetoed a bill that would have made the disorder eligible for medical marijuana treatment in Colorado.

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That research will be headed by Dr. Nicole Tartaglia, a pediatrician specializing in intellectual and developmental disabilities and an associate professor at the CU Anschutz School of Medicine. Tartaglia practices at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora.

She said she prescribes such patients traditional behavioral therapies and medication, which can help some but not be robust enough for others. Families whose children haven’t seen improvement are looking at alternative treatments, and one of the most popular is the use of cannabidiol oil.

“We have a lot of anecdotal evidence (for CBD treatment) that is positive and some that raise concern about side effects,” Tartaglia said. “We feel it’s time for a well-controlled trial and a rigorous study design to tell what the benefits are, what symptoms it can help and what the side effects are.”

She said she hopes to start trials next summer, pending licensing from the Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration.

“As someone who has personally witnessed the benefit of cannabis with my son who transitioned from hospice to health six years ago using cannabis, he has Doose syndrome (epilepsy and autism), I am thrilled that more research is being done in this area,” said Heather Jackson, CEO of Realm of Caring, a Colorado Springs nonprofit that provides patients and health care providers with information on medical marijuana use and funds related research.

“Realm of Caring continues to hear success stories through our call center and the observational study we conduct with Johns Hopkins University. It is past time to make sense of and validate when this therapy will be useful clinically as well as discover any potential harms,” she said.

The spinal pain study will be led by Dr. Emily Lindley, an assistant professor at the CU Anschutz Department of Orthopedics, and Dr. Rachael Rzasa Lynn, an assistant professor at the school’s Department of Anesthesiology. Neither could be reached for comment.

Each study received $1.35 million from the state’s Medical Marijuana Research Grant Program. The state has issued $9 million in medical marijuana research grants so far, plus $2.35 million for seven public health studies on marijuana. Researchers have studied use of marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, pediatric epilepsy, sleep disorders and Parkinson’s disease.

Federal grants for such studies are rare because marijuana still is illegal under federal law. That has limited U.S. studies into the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids, says a book published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Twitter: @lizmforster Phone: 636-0193

Twitter: @lizmforster

Phone: 636-0193

Liz Forster is a general assignment reporter with a focus on environment and public safety. She is a Colorado College graduate, avid hiker and skier, and sweet potato enthusiast. Liz joined The Gazette in June 2017.

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