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Feds fund CBD research but refuse to consider THC studies

September 19, 2019
An agency of the federal National Institutes of Health announced $3 million in grants for CBD research, but nothing for studies involving THC. (OlegMalyshev/iStock)
The U.S. government will spend $3 million to find out if cannabis can relieve pain, but none of the money will be used to study the part of the plant that gets people high.

'There are so many beneficial effects that patients report. We need to know the science behind it.'
Aditi Das, University of Illinois researcher

Nine research grants announced Thursday are for work on CBD, the trendy ingredient showing up in cosmetics and foods, and hundreds of less familiar chemicals. THC research was excluded.

The federal government still considers cannabis an illegal drug, but more than 30 states allow it use for a range of medical problems.

The science is strongest for chronic pain, the most common reason people give when they enroll in state-approved medical marijuana programs. But little is known about which parts of cannabis are helpful and whether the intoxicating effects of THC can be avoided.


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Playing catch up

“The science is lagging behind the public use and interest. We’re doing our best to catch up here,” said Dr. David Shurtleff, deputy director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), which is funding the projects. The NCCIH is the National Institutes of Health’s lead agency for scientific research on the diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.

THC has been investigated extensively, Shurtleff said, and its potential for addiction and abuse make it unsuitable for treating pain.

Lack of research is a public health risk

Other federal agencies have supported cannabis research, but much of the focus has been on potential harms. Shurtleff said the grants answer the call in a 2017 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report, which concluded a lack of cannabis research poses a public health risk.

Another driver is the nation’s opioid addiction crisis, with its roots in overuse of prescription painkillers. The crisis has sparked new scientific interest in marijuana’s pain-easing properties.

Dr. Judith Hellman, a grant recipient from University of California San Francisco, said scientists need to better understand pain and to find more ways to treat it. “It’s very exciting to have the opportunity to do that,” she said.


The Most Important Cannabis Studies of 2018

Studies on pain-signaling pathways

Hellman’s research involves the body’s ability to produce signaling molecules similar to the ingredients in cannabis. Her and Dr. Mark Schumacher’s work involves human immune cells in the lab, then tests on mice.

Human test subjects will be involved in only one of the grant projects. University of Utah researcher Deborah Yurgelun-Todd will scan the brains of human volunteers with lower back pain to see how CBD extract—mixed with chocolate pudding—affects pain-signaling pathways. Half the volunteers will get pudding without CBD as a control group.

Two more human studies may be funded in a second round of grant awards, NCCIH said.

Growing cannabinoids in the lab

In July, the National Institute on Drug Abuse said it would grow 2,000 kilograms (4,409 pounds) of marijuana this year at the University of Mississippi, which holds the sole federal contract for producing research cannabis. Those plants won’t be used in many of the new projects, which instead will use lab-made versions of the chemicals.

Researchers in Illinois hope to create a library of useful compounds found in cannabis plants.

“We make them from scratch and test them one by one,” said David Sarlah of the University of Illinois. Cannabis contains such tiny amounts of the interesting ingredients that it’s too costly and time consuming to isolate enough for research, Sarlah said.

Sarlah, an organic chemist, will make the chemicals. His colleague Aditi Das will run tests to see how they react with mouse immune cells.

“There are so many beneficial effects that patients report. We need to know the science behind it,” Das said.

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  • jd

    typical,,,,but,they can’t hold out forever……….they’re just prolonging pain and suffering(this will be their undoing) and delaying the inevitable…….

    • MXJ222

      You think they care? No, they don’t. Ideology over people’s health. Party over country.

  • Dicey

    My experience with back pain is that THC is the workhorse. CBD helps, definitely not to be counted out, but when the back pain gets bad, you don’t see me reaching for the Cannatonic (which I love btw), its going to be Sundae Driver, Apple Fritter Cookies, or another high end high THC strain.

    Blog post just today about THC vs CBD in the context of back pain. Hopefully putting a link to it here doesn’t get me banned as a spammer or something:

    • Leslie Newman

      Excellent blog! Thanks for sharing!

  • Petra Fyde

    Why not bypass the US govt all together and set up research facilities (from all different countries including US) in a few locations overseas and start studying it there? US govt is turning into a joke.

  • Pamela Collins

    Well that’s just completely ignorant of them! I say this because I’m over 50 and the pure thc oil along with cbd seperately cured my stage 4 adenocarcinoma cancer. NO chemo and NO radiation or surgery. If they truly cared about people, they would research it too! However; then that would take away big pharma’s poison and their money, so it won’t happen unfortunately. Greed has taken over our country to the point they don’t care if we live or die. SMH!

  • Karla Meehan

    I agree with Dicey. I have chronic back pain and fortunately live in a state where medical is legal. I have tried CBD only and it isn’t nearly as effective as THC. I would much rather use cannabis instead of pain pills since it is non addicting. I believe that legalization would dramatically reduce opioid addiction.

  • MXJ222

    Typical half-assed, almost useless study controlled by the same ideology that says who cares if we are killing the planet when we are making lots of money off environmental murder.

    It’s like they want to research chicken and find out everything they can, so they will use broccoli.

    Useless just like 99% of what comes from Washington.

  • 360dunk

    Love my country but this is the same federal government that decided long ago cannabis has no medicinal value, therefore it should be considered the equivalent of heroin and ecstasy. Meanwhile, after avoiding arrest for over a half century, I continue to enjoy the effects of reducing my body’s inflammation by using cannabis on a daily basis…..the same cannabis whose medical benefits the government STILL refuses to acknowledge. Guess what? Reducing inflammation reduces the harmful effects of diabetes, brain disease, arthritis, and a host of other immune diseases.

    “It has the potential to be abused.” they claim. Hmmmm, that’s odd. I’ve been smoking and eating it pretty regularly since 1969 and not once tried (or even desired to try) heroin, meth, or cocaine. The gateway theory is bunk, the classification of weed as a Schedule I drug is even more absurd, and arresting people for possession has always been hypocritical when you consider how damaging alcohol is to society.

    Time to wake up!!!

  • william

    Don’t despair, my friend, I feel the same way sometimes so I have disconnected from social media and only consume thought-provoking news that I agree with. You are correct “our government doesn’t care about anything or anyone except money and rich cronies” but finding peace in all this crap can be difficult, but not impossible.

    If I may suggest, go to your local library and check out Jordan Peterson’s book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”.
    This book has really made a BIG difference in my life.
    Hang in there Bro!