Colloquia on Cannabis Research: Kent Hutchison


Cannabis has been legalized in one form or another in the majority of the U.S., Canada, Mexico and various other countries around the world. There is a clear need for updated and timely empirical evidence regarding the potential health benefits and risks of cannabis to guide policy making and consumer decisions regarding cannabis use, especially given the number of people who are turning to cannabis as an answer to opiate addiction and chronic pain. Considering the significant public health implications of increasing access to marijuana, research on the health effects of marijuana should be a high priority for congressional representatives from every state in the U.S.

To understand the health effects of medical marijuana, the potential risks need to be weighed again the potential benefits. In that context, the first part of the presentation will summarize data on the potential risks of medical marijuana. Studies clearly suggest that THC may have short term deleterious effects on cognition, although these effects may be mitigated by other cannabinoids like CBD. However, these effects may be less pronounced in regular users and medical patients. The evidence for long­term negative effects of medical marijuana on brain structure and cognition is not particularly strong, particularly in medical populations. With respect to potential benefits, recent evidence suggests that many individuals are using medical marijuana to self­treat chronic pain and reduce opiate use. In addition, recent systematic reviews of randomized clinical trials indicate that cannabis has some efficacy in the treatment of pain, particularly neuropathic pain. Specific cannabinoids have also demonstrated efficacy for other diseases states (e.g., CBD for seizures). In short, while there is no evidence to suggest that marijuana represents a “panacea,” it does seem clear that for many patients, the benefits of specific marijuana products clearly outweigh the risks. What is also abundantly clear is that public acceptance of medical marijuana in the U.S. has greatly outpaced the existing research. For the cancer patient who asks their oncologist for information about the medical effect of marijuana or the policy maker who would like to make policy based on scientific evidence, this is clearly a situation that needs to be addressed.


Kent Hutchison, PhD, is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Dr. Hutchison has been an NIH funded scientist for the past 20 years and has published numerous papers in the area of substance use. Dr. Hutchison recently served on the National Academy of Sciences committee that reviewed the effect of cannabis on health and released a report in the fall of 2016. Dr. Hutchison is the principal investigator (or co­investigator) on three new NIH funded studies that examine the effects of cannabis products (e.g., flower, edibles, concentrates) purchased in the state of Colorado. Specifically, the studies are designed to compared the effects of CBD only, THC+CBD, or THC only on anxiety, pain, and cognition, in patient populations using a mobile pharmacology lab. The mobile lab allows for the collection of blood levels of THC and CBD and a test of whether blood levels of these cannabinoids predict the effects of cannabis on key outcomes (e.g., reductions in pain and opiate use). Importantly, this approach is also consistent with federal laws that have restricted cannabis research in the past. Most recently, Dr. Hutchison founded research center focused on the health effects of cannabis. The overarching objective of center is to facilitate research that will better inform policy makers, as well as patients, about the potential benefits and risks of cannabis products available in states that have legalized access.


In connection with the new University of Colorado Research and Education Addressing Cannabinoids and Health (CU REACH), the Colloquium on Cannabis Research is a monthly research seminar focused on the science, technology, business, and history of cannabis. Each session will feature a speaker giving a 45 minute presentation followed by 15 minutes of discussion. This is a non­consumption event dedicated to discussing academic research about cannabis.

Friday, September 21, 2018 at 1:30pm to 2:30pm

Center for Academic Success and Engagement (CASE), E351

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