The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government) will spend $3 million to find out if cannabis (marijuana) can relieve pain, but none of the money will be used to study the part of the plant that gets people high.
Nine research grants announced Thursday are for work on Cannabidiol (CBD), the trendy ingredient showing up in cosmetics and foods, and hundreds of less familiar chemicals. THC research was excluded.
The federal government still deems cannabis (marijuana) an illegal medication, but more than thirty states allow it use for a variety of medical problems, some without good proof.
The science is strongest for chronic pain, the most common reason people give when they enroll in state-approved medical cannabis (marijuana) programs. But little is known about which parts of cannabis (marijuana) are helpful and whether the intoxicating effects of THC can be avoided.
“The science is lagging behind the interest and public use. We’re performing our best to get up here,” stated Dr. David Shurtleff, deputy director of the NCCIH (National Center for Complementary) – is a United States government agency that explores complementary and alternative medicine – and Integrative Health, which is funding the projects.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been investigated widely, Shurtleff told, and its potential for abuse and addiction makes it unfit for treating pain.
Other federal agencies have supported cannabis (marijuana) research, but much of the focus has been on potential harms. Shurtleff stated the grants answer the request in a 2017 NASEM (also known as National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) – is the collective scientific national academy of the United States. The name is used interchangeably in 2 senses – report, which concluded a lack of cannabis (marijuana) research poses a public health risk.
Another operator is the state’s opioid addiction crisis, with its origins in excessive use of prescription painkillers. The crisis has sparked new scientific attention in cannabis’s (marijuana) pain-easing characteristics.
Dr. Judith Hellman, a grant recipient from the University of California San Francisco, said scientists need to better understand the pain and to find more ways to treat it. “It’s very interesting to have the chance to do that,” she told.
Hellman’s study involves the body’s capability to produce signaling molecules similar to marijuana’s components. She and Dr. Mark Schumacher’s work involves human immune cells in the lab, then tests on mice.
Human test topics will be involved in just one of the grant projects. The University of Utah Scientist Deborah Yurgelun-Todd will study the brains of human volunteers with lower back pain to understand how cannabidiol (CBD) extract — jumbled with chocolate pudding — affects pain-signaling pathways. Half the volunteers will get pudding without Cannabidiol (CBD) as a control group.
Two more human studies may be funded in the second round of grant awards, NCCIH said.
Last July, the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) announced it would grow 2,000 Kg (4,409 pounds) of cannabis (marijuana) this year at the University of Mississippi, which possesses the sole federal contract for producing analysis cannabis. Those plants won’t be utilized in many of the current projects, which instead will apply lab-made versions of the chemicals.
Scientists in Illinois hope to make a library of beneficial compounds found in cannabis (marijuana) plants.
“We test them one by one and put them from scratch,” stated David Sarlah of the University of Illinois. Cannabis (marijuana) 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 partner Aditi Das will run experiments to see how they react with rat immune cells.
“There are so many useful effects that patients report. We want to know the science behind it,” Das told.