Researchers at The University of New Mexico are using social media to help educate the public and generate funding for clinical investigations on the effects of using medical Cannabis.
Patients, clinicians, and scientists still know very little about the effects of using common and commercially available cannabis-based products due to federal restrictions to possessing Cannabis and the lack of federal funding for research on the health benefits of using Cannabis. Associate Professor of Psychology, Dr. Jacob Miguel Vigil created the UNM Medical Cannabis Research Fund (MCRF) to overcome these challenges and to “conduct the types of research the U.S. government has largely failed to provide,” said Vigil.
Cannabis-based medicines are the fastest growing sector in the New Mexico market. Rapid changes in Cannabis prohibition and legalization regulations throughout the U.S. are creating a flood of new medical Cannabis and hemp consumers with little clinical guidance on the safety and applications of use, and their purported primary constituents, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The transition from illegal substances to prescribed medicines represents major turning points in healthcare delivery and signal that a paradigm shift is already underway.
The researchers established the “Cannabis Connection University” social media platform for educating the general public, including patients, health providers, people in the medical cannabis industry, and fellow researchers, at all educational levels.
“This social media platform was necessary,” explains Vigil, “because of the continuous federal barriers to conducting and obtaining funding for clinical investigations that may elucidate the medicinal potential of the Cannabis plant. This has resulted in an unusual scarcity of general and scientific knowledge on the pharmacodynamic effects of consuming the Cannabis plant and their associated risks and benefits relative to those of other major classes of prescription and over the counter (OTC) medications.
“Coupled with the practical restrictions for the average tax-payer without an academic institutional affiliation to be able to access primary peer-reviewed scientific research findings, the general public has really been left in the dark about the actual effects of using Cannabis, and this is true for both patients and health providers.”
Vigil believes his research team is solving a major societal knowledge gap by “creating a sustainable funding source for conducting the types of investigations that endow patients and providers with immediate and relevant information, and directly translating the results of the investigations and related educational content directly back to the general public,” he said.
This type of community-focused research and educational agenda is unconventional and departs widely from the traditional academic system in which research is funded by the government and accessed via academic institutions. “Instead,” says Vigil, “we are attempting to complete the circle of prioritizing the medical needs of our fellow community members that can most immediately benefit through our research efforts and providing the results of these projects back to those very individuals, the general public, and wider health and scientific communities, quickly and transparently, so that our fellow community members can make the most informed possible medical decisions.”
The research is funded entirely through publically generated and private donations to the UNM Medical Cannabis Research Fund.
The Cannabis Connection University platform presents topics ranging from basic descriptions about the effects of using cannabis on different patient populations to complex descriptions of bodily systems and mechanisms, such as those responsible for pain, sleep, and sex drive. The platform also features in-depth interviews and cultural perspective from patients, health providers, clinical researchers, legislators, and people working in the medical cannabis industry.
As Vigil describes, “We have been conducting medical Cannabis research full time for several years now, and our team has developed a wealth of experience and information that both patients and providers are often eager to learn.”
Because most health practitioners have had little more than a paragraph or two of formal education on the endocannabinoid system, they are often left unable to provide any meaningful responses to common patient inquiries and requested guidance for experimenting with cannabis-based therapies.
“Given the lack of effectiveness and intolerable side effects of many conventional classes of prescription and OTC medications, our society is now ready for a full cannabis disclosure, and here at the MCRF, we are using our skillsets and humanitarian passions to help bridge these societal knowledge gaps.”
Fellow Cannabis researcher and Ph.D. student, Jegason Phosphorus Diviant, adds "There is no other medicine that we have ever found that expresses such therapeutic diversity and potential as Cannabis. There are thousands of Cannabis strains, and within each unique strain there are variations of hundreds of compounds working together in harmony, like members of a symphony, and we are on the verge of determining what combinations of these compounds are most likely to reduce the symptoms of a wide variety of mood, anxiety, behavioral, cognitive, inflammatory, and other disorders."
“This series will also highlight New Mexico's rich psychedelic traditions, most of which are underground, but emerging,” added Joaquin Orozco, Ph.D. student. “Cannabis is an example of a powerful entheogen, plants that enhance a person’s sense of spirituality, and these medicines have potential therapeutic applications to resolve addictions and improve mental health. Evidence-based research demonstrates that even a single dose of some plant-based psychedelic medicines could have positive, life-altering effects. Cannabis and other psychedelic medicines are poised to be the next major breakthrough in mental health care.”