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Colorado researcher will use PET/CT to shed light on marijuana's effect on multiple sclerosis

by Gail Kalinoski, Contributing Reporter | March 09, 2016
Molecular Imaging Population Health
A Colorado State University researcher who is studying the effects of medical marijuana on patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) will be using PET/CT to track muscular and neurological activity as part of his testing.

Thorsten Rudroff, director of CSU’s Integrative Neurophysiology Lab, is hoping to shed new light on the possible benefits and side effects of long-term cannabis use to treat MS symptoms. The Denver Post reported that CSU will not be providing cannabis or encouraging the use of it but is seeking participants who have been using medical marijuana to volunteer for the study.

Most of the imaging will be done at PET Imaging of Northern Colorado in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Rudroff said it does not matter how the patients ingest the cannabis or which strains they have been using.
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Rudroff, who has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the research, hopes to study at least 20 MS patients already using cannabis and compare them to a control group of patients who are not using it.

Colorado, which legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2014, has allowed medical marijuana since 2000, so the state is “an ideal location for the study,” Rudroff said in a CSU publication.

Colorado also has one of the highest rates of MS in the United States and local clinicians say as many as 50 percent of their MS patients are using marijuana to help with their symptoms, according to Rudroff.

“The marijuana use may have additional benefits, such as improving motor function, but this is all based on anecdotal evidence,” he said in the CSU story. “We don’t have scientific evidence that this is working, so we think this research could provide valuable information.”

Rudroff, also an assistant professor in the CSU Department of Health and Exercise Science, said he will be looking at the PET/CT scans to determine whether those patients using the cannabis have more efficient muscle activation or changes in the central nervous system.

Before the patients exercise on a treadmill, a sugar-based tracer will be injected into them to see if there are changes in the central nervous system’s glucose. The PET/CT scanner will be used after they walk on the treadmill to determine if the tracer was consumed as an energy source by tissue in the brain, spinal cord or lower extremities, according to the CSU story.

The CSU lab will be one of the few labs in the world to use the PET/CT scanner to track this type of muscular and neurological activity after the treadmill exercise.

Rudroff said he decided to use crowdfunding because of the stiff competition for grants, but he hopes the results of this study will help him get more federal funding.

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