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SPHHP researcher contributed to report on health effects of cannabis

By GLENN WALDRON

Published February 14, 2017

R. Lorraine Collins

Although there has been a rapid rise in the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis in recent years, evidence regarding both the short and long-term health effects had not been extensively examined.

But a report issued earlier this month by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine — which includes input from UB faculty member R. Lorraine Collins — presents nearly 100 conclusions related to the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoid use, and makes recommendations for an agenda to help expand and improve cannabis research efforts and better inform future public health decisions.

“This is one of the most comprehensive reviews of recent research on this topic,” says Collins, professor and associate dean of research in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions who served on the National Academies’ committee that produced the report, titled “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research.”

With support from federal, state, philanthropic and nongovernmental organizations, the National Academies convened the 16-member ad hoc expert committee in June 2016 to develop a comprehensive, in-depth review of the most recent evidence on the health effects of using cannabis and cannabis-derived products.  

Over a six-month period, the committee considered more than 10,000 scientific abstracts for their relevance to the report. The committee also looked at recently published systematic reviews and high-quality primary research for 11 groups of health topics or concerns, including therapeutic effects for a variety of diseases and conditions.  

Research conclusions were further organized based on the quality of the evidence.  Among the highlights of the report:

  • Initiating cannabis use at a young age is a risk factor for developing problematic cannabis use.
  • Pregnant women who smoke increase the risk that their baby will be born with low birth weight.
  • Long-term cannabis smoking causes chronic breathing problems.
  • Some people suffering from chronic pain, muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis, or nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy obtain some relief of their symptoms from using cannabis-based products or cannabis.

Collins also notes the committee’s research formulated recommendations related to addressing a variety of research gaps and addressing the current barriers to studying the effects of cannabis. “This is a very critical time in the realm of cannabis research and more research on all aspects of the beneficial and harmful effects is needed,” she says.

Collins has a long history of conducting research on young adults’ use substances, including marijuana. Much of her work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, particularly the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Her most recent grant focused on the development and testing of a smartphone app as one component of an intervention to help young adults reduce their use of marijuana.