A federal health agency is highlighting a variety of marijuana-related research topics that are being funded, promoting a new online resource that compiles active cannabis study grant opportunities as well as an overview of projects that have already received government support.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) recently launched a landing page that directs people to a database detailing research projects that are being federally supported, broken down into three main categories: cannabinoid research, cannabidiol research and therapeutic cannabinoid research.
The National Institutes on Health, which NCCIH falls under, “supports a broad portfolio of research on cannabis and cannabis constituents and related compounds, as well as the endocannabinoid system,” the agency said.
“Specific topics of interest vary among Institutes, Centers, and Offices, but overall the research portfolio includes studies investigating the whole or parts of the Cannabis sativa plant, cannabis extracts or enriched extracts, cannabinoid compounds extracted and derived from cannabis extracts, non-cannabinoid constituents of cannabis, synthetic cannabinoids, and the components of the endocannabinoid system (the signaling pathways in the body activated by cannabinoids).”
“There is considerable interest in the possible therapeutic uses of cannabis and its constituent compounds,” it added.
A scan of the cannabis landing pages—which detail specific studies that have already been funded as well as ongoing opportunities for researchers in search of grant support—shows a wide range of research topics that NIH has worked to back, with descriptions of the subject matter, principal investigators, universities that are involved and more.
For example, federal dollars have gone toward studies on the risks and benefits of cannabis for brain development, mental health disorders like depression, HIV-related neuropathic pain and osteoarthritis.
This is just a sampling of the volume of marijuana research that’s been done, and the new resource only looks at those that have received federal funding through NIH and its component institutes. And the agency’s work to compile and promote those studies is notable, in part because a common argument from opponents of legalization is that they feel cannabis has not been adequately researched.
Further contradicting that point, a recent analysis from NORML found that researchers published more than 4,300 studies on marijuana and its components in 2022—a new annual record.
The new online resource also details specific cannabis related study areas of interest for NIH components such as the National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Aging and National Eye Institute, among others.
NCCIH Director Helene Langevin said in September that cannabis research is “fraught with hurdles”—including its continued prohibition under federal law—that need to be addressed in order to unlock studies on areas such as how cannabinoids can serve as “safer tools” than opioids in managing pain.
Also this year, the agency solicited feedback from the scientific community “about its interest in and barriers to research on the health effects of cannabis and its constituents.”
Lawmakers and legalization advocates have actually aligned with prohibitionists to support expanded research into cannabis—a point that’s underscored by the fact that President Joe Biden signed a historic standalone bill this month to streamline studies, for example.
Both the House and Senate passed earlier versions of their separate but similar cannabis research bills in late 2020, but nothing ended up getting to then-President Donald Trump’s desk by the end of the last Congress.
Congressional researchers separately released a report in March that details the challenges posed by ongoing federal prohibition and the options that lawmakers have available to address them.
DEA has taken steps in recent years to approve new cultivators of marijuana to be used in studies, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recently published a solicitation for applications from those authorized growers as it looks for new contractors to supply the agency with cannabis for research purposes.
Meanwhile, large-scale infrastructure legislation that was signed by Biden last year contains provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal businesses instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.
Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) recently sought an update on the status of a federal report into research barriers that are inhibiting the development of a standardized test for marijuana impairment on the roads, as required under that infrastructure legislation.
NIDA Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment last year that scientists have been unnecessarily limited in the source of cannabis they’re permitted to study—and it makes sense to enact a policy change that expands their access to products available in state-legal markets.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.