NIH National Cancer Institute Grant Awarded to Help Study Cannabis’s Medicinal Effect on Cancer Immunotherapy Treatment

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The University of Buffalo has received a grant from the NIH National Cancer Institute to research cannabis’s medicinal effect on cancer immunotherapy treatment.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded the University of Buffalo (UB) $3.2 million to study cannabis’s medicinal effects during immunotherapy for cancer treatment (1), including learning if cannabis can lower health disparities.

One of University of Buffalo’s psychiatrists was awarded the research grant funding, and it will be utilized in a year-long study where they will examine how a patients’ cannabis use affects common cancer treatment. Thomas Jefferson University and Oregon Health and Science University will be partnering with the University of Buffalo on this study. Each educational institution will recruit 450 cancer patients that are being treated with immunotherapy. This form of treatment causes fewer side effects than the more widely known treatment, chemotherapy. Immunotherapy is used to improve the natural defenses in the body to protect healthy cells (1).

Reported by the University of Buffalo (1), it is estimated that 40% of cancer patients utilize cannabis as a treatment option as a sleep aid, improve their mood, and relieve pain. The federal health agency is awarding researchers $3.2 million to study the effects of using cannabis while receiving immunotherapy for cancer treatment, as well as whether access to marijuana helps reduce health disparities.


Principal investigator Rebecca Ashare said in a recent press release (1), that there are “virtually no long-term studies evaluating its potential benefits and harms for persons treated with immunotherapy for cancer, despite cancer and its treatments being qualifying conditions in most of the 37 states and Washington, D.C., that have legalized adult use or medical cannabis.”

Some cannabinoids found in cannabis contain anti-inflammatory properties but may also suppress immune function. ““There are concerns that cannabis might reduce the efficacy of immunotherapy,” Ashare commented (1). “The demand for evidence is clear and this project represents an important first step in that process as both immunotherapy and cannabis use are becoming more widespread therapeutic options in oncology, accepted by many patients and physicians.”

To procure the data needed for the study, half of the participants will be able to use their own products while the other half will consist of non-cannabis users. Researchers will the investigate “medical records, patient outcomes and blood samples at six different times over a one-year period,” (1). They will also view the “role of neighborhood disadvantage on outcomes related to cannabis use and immunotherapy,” (1).

“We want to see if access to cannabis reduces health disparities,” Ashare mentioned (1). “We have a strong multidisciplinary team with expertise in cancer symptom management, medical cannabis, health equity, oncology, immunology, and substance misuse. Overall this research will have a sustained impact on the science of cancer symptom management and ultimately improve patient care and safety.”

The National Cancer Institute has expressed that they are interested in supporting research that analyzes cannabis’s relationship with cancer treatment which will hopefully help healthcare professionals be able to recommend cannabis as a tool in their patients’ treatment plans.


  1. Jaeger, K. Federal Health Agency Awards $3.2 Million Grant To Study Impact Of Marijuana On Cancer Immunotherapy Treatment (accessed Nov 1, 2023).