DENVER (Reuters) - Colorado health officials awarded $8 million in research grants on Wednesday to study the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease, childhood epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Colorado was one of the first two U.S. states to legalize recreational pot use, and it is among 23 states and the District of Columbia that permit use of the drug for medicinal purposes.
But weed remains illegal under federal law for any reason, leading to a dearth of funding for medical marijuana research, and meaning results are limited and largely anecdotal.
Awarding eight grants for landmark peer-reviewed studies into an array of maladies, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said it sought to provide objective scientific research on the efficacy of medical marijuana.
"The grant program ... should not be construed as encouraging tor sanctioning the social or recreational use of marijuana," the department said in a statement.
Colorado lawmakers set up a Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council last year and allocated $10 million to administer a program to conduct the studies. The council received some three dozen applications, from which it chose the eight approved by the department on Wednesday.
Funding for the program is derived from taxes imposed on the state-regulated sale of medical marijuana.
Six of the grants will go to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, said university spokesman Mark Couch.
Researchers there will study whether marijuana in its various forms can alleviate the tremors associated with Parkinson's and whether it can provide relief for children with brain tumors or pediatric epilepsy.
Other projects will research using marijuana to treat irritable bowel syndrome in adolescents and young adults, and how cannabis compares with the pain medication Oxycodone.
Teams at the University of Pennsylvania will conduct two separate studies on whether cannabis is effective in treating patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, including combat veterans.
"It's true that little research has been done due to federal restrictions. I think that will change as more states are legalizing," said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which oversees legalized recreational cannabis there.
Voters in Oregon and Alaska cast ballots in November to join Colorado and Washington in legalizing recreational pot use.
Reporting by Keith Coffman; Additional reporting by Eric Johnson in Seatttle; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman