SALT LAKE CITY -- University of Utah researchers could soon be looking into how marijuana impacts the brain and if the medical benefits outweigh the risks.
“We're going to study the effect of cannabis products on the brain,” said Jeffrey Anderson, a Professor of Radiology and Imaging Service at University of Utah.
U of U researchers are trying to shed light on some mysteries surrounding medical marijuana.
“We have so much that we don't know yet about exactly what happens in the brain,” Anderson said.
To find those answers, they plan to use high-tech scans to study the effects of cannabis on the brain. And they're getting some major financial help.
“A local philanthropist has generously provided funding to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge,” Anderson said.
A $740,000 grant will cover a lot of research and testing of cannabinoids. Scientists plan to have about 40 people participate in the study and say no one will be getting high.
“So THC is the active ingredient that causes psychoactive effects, and then there's other what we call cannabinoids... like CBD, and that's one of the compounds that has been of most interest for medical uses,” Anderson said.
Scientists want to see what that oil can do to help treat illness.
“It probably has some effects on brain function that we really don't understand very well,” Anderson said. “We’d like to understand what is the effect on anxiety, on PTSD, on depression, on autism.”
Medical marijuana has been a hotly debated topic in Utah for several years. In 2014, Gov. Herbert signed a law allowing some epilepsy patients to have and use CBD oil that is low in THC and with a doctor's recommendation.
However, there's no way to legally buy that oil in Utah.
After several bills to loosen restrictions failed to pass the legislature, this year the "right to try" bill was signed into law—allowing the state to grow medical marijuana for terminally ill patients.
Medical marijuana is expected to be on the Utah ballot in November.
Researchers at the U of U are working with state and federal regulators to make sure all the laws are followed during this study.
“Even research has had a lot of regulatory obstacles, from both state and federal levels, it's been very challenging and a lot of researchers just don't study it because of the roadblocks involved,” Anderson said.