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Feds To Spend $1.5 Million On Research Into Marijuana’s Lesser Known Components

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The federal government plans to award $1.5 million in grants during the 2019 fiscal year to researchers who study how components of marijuana other than THC affect pain.

In a notice about the funding opportunity published on Thursday, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) said that it was seeking applications from researchers to conduct studies on “minor cannabinoids and terpenes.” The aim of the grants will be to learn how these components work—separately and when combined—as potential pain-relieving agents.

The research is especially important given the widespread use of addictive opioid-based painkillers for pain management, NCCIH said. While THC has known analgesic properties, very little is known about the hundreds of other constituents in cannabis, which could represent viable alternatives to popular painkillers.

“Early clinical data suggest that cannabis may enhance the potency of opioids in relieving pain; and the synergy from using these products together may result in more effective pain relief with lower doses of opioids,” the agency wrote. “Yet, it is unclear which components of cannabis may have these properties. In particular, few studies have examined whether and which cannabinoids and/or terpenes interact with the opioid pain pathways.”

NCCIH, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, said that of particular interest are studies looking at cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), cannabichromene (CBC), nyrcene, β-caryophyllene, Limonene, α-terpineol, linalool, α-phellandrene, α-pinene, β-pinene, γ-terpinene and α-humulene.

“A growing body of literature suggests that the cannabis plant may have analgesic properties; however, research into cannabis’s potential analgesic properties has been slow,” the funding opportunity says. “One key mechanism to investigate is whether potential analgesic properties of cannabis can be separated from its psychoactive properties. To address this question, more research is needed into the basic biological activity of the plant’s diverse phytochemicals, specifically minor cannabinoids and terpenes.”

NCCIH listed 11 areas of interest for prospective applicants:

* To investigate the potential analgesic properties and adverse effects of minor cannabinoids, alone or in combination with each other or terpenes;

* To investigate the mechanisms by which minor cannabinoids and terpenes may affect pain pathways, including ascending and/or descending neural pathways, cellular and molecular signaling pathways, neuroimmune interactions, or other innovative regulatory pathways related to pain;

* To explore the impact of sex, age and ethnicity on potential analgesic properties of minor cannabinoids and terpenes;

* To explore analgesic potential of minor cannabinoids and terpenes for different pain types (e.g., acute pain, chronic pain, inflammatory pain, neuropathic pain);

* To investigate the pharmacology (pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic profiles) of minor cannabinoids and terpenes;

* To explore binding affinities of minor cannabinoids and terpenes to cannabinoid and opioid and other pain-related receptors;

* To investigate the impact of dose and/or route of administration on potential analgesic effects of minor cannabinoids and terpenes;

* To characterize if/how specific terpenes may influence potential analgesic properties of cannabinoids;

* To explore potential opioid sparing effects of minor cannabinoids and terpenes;

* To explore the interaction between the microbiome and minor cannabinoids or terpenes;

* To improve methods to quantify systemic levels of minor cannabinoids and terpenes

Applicants are encouraged to submit letters of intent about their research proposals 30 days before the March 15 application deadline. The $1.5 million will be distributed among four grant recipients.

The agency first announced its intent to launch the funding opportunity in November.

“The mechanisms and processes underlying potential contribution of minor cannabinoids and terpenes to pain relief and functional restoration in patients with different pain conditions may be very broad,” NCCIH said. “This initiative encourages interdisciplinary collaborations by experts from multiple fields—pharmacologists, chemists, physicists, physiologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, endocrinologists, immunologists, geneticists, behavioral scientists, clinicians, and others in relevant fields of inquiry.”

The research opportunity is one of several marijuana-related projects the federal government has recently promoted. For example, NCCIH has four other grants available to researchers to study “natural products” such as cannabis, the National Institute on Drug Abuse is calling for bulk marijuana cultivators to supply research-grade cannabis and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has asked the public to send them information about marijuana and Alzheimer’s disease.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

CDC Meets With Medical Marijuana Patients To Discuss Cannabis As Alternative Pain Therapy

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently been hosting meetings with medical marijuana patients as part of a broader series of listening sessions on alternative pain treatments.

Dustin McDonald, who uses cannabis to treat Lyme disease and also serves as policy director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), told Marijuana Moment last week that his conversation with the federal agency was productive, with representatives listening attentively as he explained his personal experiences as well as the advocacy work that ASA is involved in.

Beyond simply getting an audience with a main federal health agency, McDonald said what especially stood out to him was that the CDC representatives told him that his wasn’t the first meeting they’ve had with someone who uses medical marijuana as an alternative pain management option. In fact, they said “a lot of the folks that they had spoken with were using cannabis for chronic pain.”

“In addition to my interview and my testimony discussing my experience utilizing medical cannabis for chronic pain and acute pain, there was a large population of people that they spoke with that were doing something similar,” McDonald said, adding that the CDC officials “seemed fairly open-minded” about the subject despite the ongoing federal prohibition of marijuana.

The ASA activist was especially encouraged by the last question the agency put to him, which he said asked “what could CDC do to assist in it advancing the conversation on additional research into medical cannabis applications to human health and health disorders, in talking to the lawmakers about the need to dive more deeply into researching all of these applications.”

ASA wants to take advantage of the opportunity to work with CDC and other related agencies to advocate for “removing roadblocks to research and pushing federal dollars towards combined grant programs for federal government agencies and academic institutions to really take a look at what’s going on with medical cannabis as a medicine,” McDonald said.

While it’s not clear what steps, if any, CDC will take to advance that conversation, McDonald said the fact that the agency heard from a multitude of voices about the therapeutic potential of marijuana could push them to take some action. At the very least, he expects medical marijuana to be discussed at some length in CDC’s forthcoming updated Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain.

Marijuana Moment reached out to CDC to find out how often cannabis has been brought up in its meetings with stakeholders, but a representative was not immediately available.

The agency said in a notice about the pain management meetings published in the Federal Register in July that the conversations “will help inform CDC’s understanding of stakeholders’ values and preferences related to pain and pain management and will complement CDC’s ongoing work” on updating that guideline.

This comes months after CDC closed a public comment period on pain management that saw over 1,000 submissions advocating for marijuana and kratom as pain relief options.

But while there’s widespread interest in research cannabis as an opioid alternative, federally authorized research has been slow-going because of tight restrictions on who can access the plant for studies and where they can get it. Currently, there’s only one registered manufacturer at the University of Mississippi, and the marijuana they cultivate has been described as chemically closer to hemp than cannabis available in commercial markets.

A House committee last week approved key piece of marijuana research legislation that, among other things, would allow scientists to finally study cannabis from state-legal dispensaries.

In July, the House approved separate legislation that also called for letting researchers study marijuana purchased from businesses in state-legal markets instead of only letting them use government-grown cannabis. The intent of the provision, tucked into a 2,000-plus-page infrastructure bill, was to allow the interstate distribution of such products even to scientists in jurisdictions that have not yet legalized marijuana.

During an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing in January—which was requested by four GOP lawmakers last year—federal health and drug officials, including from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), acknowledged that the current supply of cannabis for research purposes is inadequate and that scientists should be able to access a wider range of marijuana products.

DEA said four years ago that it would be taking steps to expand the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers, but it has not yet acted on applications.

Last year, scientists sued the agency, alleging that it had deliberately delayed approving additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes despite its earlier pledge.

A court mandated that DEA take steps to make good on its promise, and that case was dropped after DEA provided a status update.

In March, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.

The scientists behind the original case filed another suit against DEA, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications.

That was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released in April as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.

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Politics

New Psychedelics Research And Education Center Launched At UC Berkeley As Reform Movement Grows

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The University of California at Berkeley announced on Monday that it is launching a new center dedicated to psychedelics research and education.

Scientists at the center will use psychedelic substances to “investigate cognition, perception and emotion and their biological bases in the human brain,” according to a press release. At the same time, the new entity will be putting resources toward informing the public about “this rapidly advancing field of research.”

To start, the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics will look at psilocybin, the main psychoactive component of so-called magic mushrooms. This research is being partially funded by an anonymous $1.25 million donation.

“There’s never been a better time to start a center like this,” Berkeley neuroscientist David Presti, a founding member of the center, said. “The renewal of basic and clinical science with psychedelics has catalyzed interest among many people.”

The research is meant to complement studies being conducted at other psychedelics-focused institutions, such as a similar center that launched at Johns Hopkins University last year.

“Some of these studies have produced striking results in cases that are otherwise resistant to more conventional medical treatment,” Berkeley neuroscientist Michael Silver, directer of the new center, said. “This suggests that psychedelic compounds may offer new hope for people suffering from these disorders.”

The researchers will also be partnering with the Graduate Theological Union to create “an immersive learning program on psychedelics and spirituality.” That will involve training individuals to be “facilitators” for psychedelic ceremonies. The training program will look at the “cultural, contemplative and spiritual care dimensions of psychedelics.”

“The training of facilitators is an indispensable part of this project,” Sam Shonkoff, an assistant professor at the Graduate Theological Union, said.

Researchers at the center will attempt to discover potential therapeutic applications of psychedelics for mental health by studying the fundamental mechanisms that go into a psychedelic experience. They plan to explore how visual hallucinations work in the brain, as well as the long-term effects of taking these substances on “social and political attitudes, identity and resilience to stress.”

“Psychedelic medicines can open a doorway to seeing one’s psyche and connection with the world in new and helpful ways,” Presti said. “That’s been appreciated by shamanic traditions for thousands of years. Science is now exploring new ways to investigate this.”

Journalism professor Michael Pollan, author of “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence,” will also be involved.

“We’re really interested in what psychedelics can teach us about consciousness, perception, creativity and learning,” Pollan said. “Psychedelics have a particular value later in life, because that is when you are most stuck in your patterns. They give you the ability to shake them loose.”

This center’s foundation comes in the midst of a national psychedelics reform movement, with activists across the country pushing to end criminalization of entheogenic substances.

In May 2019, Denver became the first U.S. city to decriminalize psilocybin, with the approval of a local ballot measure. Soon after, officials in Oakland, California, decriminalized possession of all plant- and fungi-based psychedelics. The City Council in Santa Cruz, California, voted to make the enforcement of laws against psychedelics among the city’s lowest enforcement priorities in January.

Last month, Canada’s health minister granted exemptions allowing certain cancer patients to legally use psilocybin for end-of-life care.

The Canadian government will have to officially respond to a petition calling for the decriminalization of psychedelics after it recently garnered nearly 15,000 signatures—and there’s legislation in the works that could make the reform happen.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is formally throwing his support behind an Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and is helping to raise money for the campaign.

A measure to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics will appear on the Washington, D.C. ballot—and recent polling indicates that it has strong support.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies announced last month that it raised $30 million in donations—including from several notable business leaders outside the drug policy realm—that will enable it to complete a study on using MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Meanwhile, Oregon voters will also see a separate measure on their November ballots to decriminalize drug possession and fund treatment services.

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Feds Fund Research On Whether Cows Can Eat Hemp Without Milk Drinkers Getting High

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently took to Twitter to publicize a $200,000 grant it awarded to researchers investigating whether or not feeding hemp to livestock leads to unacceptable concentrations of cannabinoids in resulting food for human consumption.

Scientists at Kansas State University are conducting the studies, which will help inform policies on whether hemp can safely be used in animal feed. As it stands, the practice is prohibited despite the federal legalization of the crop and its derivatives.

Little is known about the effects of cannabinoids on cattle, as most studies have focused on humans, mice and pigs. But a main reason for the new research is that there are concerns that feeding hemp to livestock could potentially result in high concentrations of THC in meat and milk sold commercially.

“Our goal is to fill in the knowledge gaps,” Kansas State University’s Michael Kleinhenz, who is part of the multidisciplinary team behind the studies, said. “Until feedstuffs containing hemp are established as safe in animals, our data will assist producers in managing situations involving intentional or unintentional hemp exposures.”

“Industrial hemp is typically grown to produce oil, seed, fiber and medicines,” Kleinhenz added. “While varieties of hemp may be planted for a single or dual purpose, such as for seed and fiber, byproducts consisting of leaves, fodder and residual plant fibers remain after harvest. These byproducts could serve as potential feedstuffs for animals. Because these are predominantly cellulose-containing plant materials, the ideal species for utilizing these feeds are ruminant animals, specifically cattle.”

So far the team has completed two preliminary studies using the USDA funds.

“The cannabinoids CBDA, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid-A (THCA-A), cannabidivarinic acid (CBDVA), and cannabichromenic acid (CBCA) were detected in all cattle after [industrial hemp] dosing,” one paper, which was published in the journal Nature in July, concluded. “These results show acidic cannabinoids, especially CBDA, are readily absorbed from the rumen and available for distribution throughout the body.”

Follow-up research will examine the effects of hemp foods on animal behavior and immune function.

“Now that we have found that some cannabinoids are readily absorbed from the rumen, the next steps are to study the tissue and milk residue depletion profiles of these compounds after animal feeding experiments,” Kleinhenz said, referring to one of the four bovine stomachs.

Researchers believe that if farmers were able to use leftover parts of hemp plants as cattle feed, it would make cultivation of the crop more economical and could boost the industry globally.

“We don’t believe that the degree of absorption is sufficient for us to be concerned about potential intoxication following the consumption of meat and milk,” Hans Coetzee, also with Kansas State, said in an interview with KSNW-TV. “If we can prove that that is of no concern of consequence to the consumer, we feel that that would remove one of the major impediments to the widespread production of hemp worldwide.”

The USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant being used by the researchers is another example of how the federal agency is prioritizing hemp since its legalization under the 2018 Farm Bill.

Meanwhile, as scientists work to better understand the crop and its derivatives, USDA is actively developing regulations for the industry. Last week, it announced that a public comment period on its proposed rules for hemp is being reopened due to widespread interest and feedback from stakeholders.

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