Federally funded research into marijuana seems to be escalating, with one government agency recently posting a roundup of current “cannabinoid-related funding opportunities” for studies investigating the plant’s therapeutic potential.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) on Dec. 8, 2018, shared a list of four research grant opportunities for studies on “natural products” such as cannabis. One would examine how cannabinoids other than THC affect pain and three others call for more broad clinical trials of natural products involving human participants.
The list appears to have been prepared as part of an NCCIH-hosted workshop in early December 2018 that explored “how to conduct research within the current regulatory framework” — an event that was explicitly not about “challenging or changing current federal laws, policies or regulations.”
.@NIH, including @NIH_NCCIH, @NIDAnews, @NIMHgov, & @NINDSnews, as well as representatives from other federal agencies, academia, & industry will come together at a workshop this Sat, 12/8 to discuss cannabinoid research. Watch the livestream: https://t.co/pWqZJYBtvf cc: @ACNPorg https://t.co/qubNIzUdwK
— David Shurtleff (@NCCIH_David) December 7, 2018
NCCIH “supports rigorous scientific investigation of natural products such as the cannabis plant and its components (e.g., cannabinoids and terpenes),” the agency wrote.
The goals of the proposed research projects range from identifying the “biological signature” of natural products, which means discovering a replicable biological effect, to determining the best dose and optimal formulation of these products. Researchers interested in taking on the investigations have to submit applications with comprehensive plans for the trials and also obtain clearance from federal agencies charged with regulating controlled substances such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Interestingly, three out of four of the studies highlighted by NCCIH don’t explicitly mention marijuana or cannabinoids; rather, they more broadly cover natural products, which seems to suggest that the agency aims to increase cannabis research through pre-existing funding channels.
While the federal government has historically funded limited studies into marijuana and its components, researchers have struggled to overcome barriers to research that exist for federally banned substances. As more states have legalized cannabis, though, agencies like the NCCIH have started ramping up their calls for research.
At the same time, the DEA has said that it’s streamlining applications for federally sanctioned marijuana cultivators in order to meet the growing demand for research-grade cannabis products. It authorized 5,400 pounds of cannabis to be grown in 2019 — more than five times the amount authorized for 2018. The reason for the scaling up is “based solely on increased usage projections for federally approved research projects,” the agency clarified in a Federal Register notice Dec. 10, 2018.
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