Although the anecdotal stories of cannabis successes are compelling, the scientific, medical, and legal communities require more solid evidence like statistical data and clinical trials. Unfortunately, getting approval to do clinical trials with a Schedule I substance is difficult to nearly impossible. However, thanks to technology and innovation, researchers may have a new resource for analyzing quality consumer data.
CannabisTech had the opportunity to speak with Jacob Vigil, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of New Mexico about how he and his colleagues are harnessing quality patient data through smartphone technology and using it to provide fact-based evidence of the powerful potential contained within the plant. In an unprecedented effort, researchers at the University of New Mexico are using self-reported user data from more than 100,000 medical cannabis administration sessions collected through a smartphone app called ReleafApp (releafapp.com).
The ReleafApp allows consumers to actively track and report their cannabis consumption, directly correlating products and dosing to symptom relief. Not only does this allow the consumer a more guided approach to necessary cannabis experimentation, but it also allows for more accurate data collected from consumers in a more natural setting – their home.
Arguing for the relevance of this observational research design, Vigil pointed out randomized clinical trials cannot account for the variability in the cannabis plant and its constituents. Vigil believes the data aggregated inside the ReleafApp could even provide more substantial, qualified data than most clinical trials when it comes to the variability of cannabis, stating, “Clinical trials are limited in being able to understand the types of decisions that people make under real-life circumstances.”
Inside the Application
Vigil mentioned after failed attempts at receiving grant money from the National Institute of Health; they were thrilled to learn about ReleafApp. “Essentially, this is the app we wanted to build but couldn’t get the funding to do so,” Vigil explained. “We can replicate a clinical trial under more appropriate circumstances given the caveats that cannabis brings.”
After registering, a virtual guide helps consumers track dosing specifics such as strain, potency, and formula. Through a series of guided questions, researchers can measure things like effects, types of products used, cannabinoid and terpene content, tolerance levels, and dosing windows. Additionally, patients indicate on an 11-point scale their pre-medication severity of symptoms. Then, throughout their session, patients choose from a list of 42 side effects including 27 possible adverse effects. Finally, they end their session with post-dosing symptom severity.
Back-End Statistical Analysis
Through a process of advanced statistical analysis, Vigil and his team gathered enough data to publish two studies in the journals, Frontiers in Pharmacology, and Medicines entitled “Patient-Reported Symptom Relief Following Medical Cannabis Consumption,” and “Effectiveness of Raw, Natural Medical Cannabis Flower for Treating Insomnia under Naturalistic Conditions,” respectively.
The first study followed patients through 27 different reported health conditions where patients treated a range of ailments including seizure disorders, insomnia and mental stressors such as depression and anxiety. Analyzing the data, the UNM researchers discovered, on an 11-point scale (0-10), 94% of patients reported a marked improvement in symptoms with an average 4-point reduction in severity. Additionally, most ReleafApp users described more positive or contextual side effects than negative ones.
“We are blessed to work with this data, and we didn’t require a lot of money to do so. We’re not wasting taxpayer dollars, and we’re all in this for the right reasons.” These studies are just the tip of the iceberg according to Vigil, “[There are] so many amazing findings, the data will blow everyone’s minds and ultimately contribute to the good of society.” In fact, Vigil envisions massive societal changes as cannabis knowledge proliferates.
“The most powerful effect is [the plant’s] ability to cause people to want to improve the world in a selfless way,” Vigil elaborated.
The Importance of Truth
Ironically, these studies out of UNM were published just one day before BuzzFeed News released evidence of a covert operation out of Washington to derail the cannabis industry through Anslinger-style fear-mongering. Forming the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, the Trump administration is explicitly asking for one-sided research and biased data with the intent to sway the favorable public opinion of marijuana and portray legalization as a national threat.
In the age of information, it will be difficult to sway public opinion with biased data effectively. As Vigil explained, “We are in a watershed moment, there’s too much public awareness and objective information in regards to their own experiences.” With an altruistic objective, Vigil said, “I am much more grateful to reach 50,000 real people, who can use the information to better their lives than to reach 50,000 scientists. By reaching real people, we give them alternative possibilities and newfound hope, and help them to realize they are in full control of their health care.”
Support Further Research
You can directly support objective medical cannabis studies by donating to the University of New Mexico Medical Cannabis Research Fund (mcrf.unm.edu), which Vigil established in 2016 to make it possible to conduct the types of necessary studies that current government funding agencies have historically failed to support.
Consumers, if you’re currently using cannabis to treat a health ailment, download the free Releafapp for your smartphone or tablet today to track your own data. Not only will you gain insight into your personal cannabis consumption and symptom management, but you’ll contribute to the greater good and possibly help someone else find their alternative, too.