What the Hellth?! Research Project Shows How Grant Funding Has Focused on Cannabis Harms

Cannabis Science and Technology, November/December 2020, Volume 3, Issue 9
Pages: 30-32

Columns | <b>Cannabis Crossroads</b>

An overview of the research that Dr. Jim Hudson and hellth.com have been conducting on the 3269 grants that included cannabis-related keywords.

Research is expensive. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been allocated to government-funded cannabis research over the past decades and you may be very frustrated with the money trail and how these funds have been appropriated. I recently came across a phenomenal website, https://hellth.com/#/welcome, that takes a deep dive into 3269 grants that included cannabis-related keywords and classifies this funding into five distinct categories: the harms of cannabis, the human body’s endocannabinoid system, isolated cannabinoids such as THC or CBD, social and political issues around cannabis, and medical use of the cannabis.

Dr. Jim Hudson, a consultant for medical research charities and government agencies collected publicly available grant data and included public agencies like the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Hudson reviewed more than 3200 publicly available grants from 50 funders over the past two decades. His research analyzed $1.56 billion that was spent on cannabis research during that time.

It is important to note that this project actually has four distinct phases. Phase 1, overview of cannabis research funding, has been completed. Phase 2, overview of funded cannabis research projects, has also been completed. A portion of the results from phase 1 and 2 are provided here. Phases 3 and 4, yet to be completed, will focus on the examination of cannabis research strategies and drilling down into specific topics of interest. Therefore, the scope of Hellth.com extends far beyond the analysis of grant funding and includes analysis of cannabis research questions that are interesting and relevant.

Results of the First Two Research Phases

Below is a partial listing of insights gleaned from the first two phases of this project.

  • Funding for cannabis grants increased substantially over the period of the study, from less than $31 million in 2000 to more than $151 million in 2018.
  • More than 1.5 billion dollars ($US) of cannabis research was funded (in US, Canada, and UK).
  • The majority of funding went to researchers in the US, followed distantly by researchers in Canada and the UK.
  • By far, the largest funder of cannabis research in the US
    (and overall) was the NIH; most of this funding was associated with its National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
  • The highest levels of funding went to grant recipients in California, New York, and Massachusetts. Relative to overall biomedical research funding, the highest levels of cannabis research funding were awarded to researchers in Mississippi.
  • In Canada, funding for cannabis research increased substantially from 2000–2018.
  • There was a large increase in cannabis research funding in 2018, the year of full legalization of cannabis use in Canada.

  • Between 2000–2018 the top funded categories were:

  • Cannabis effects: research focused on the effects of
    cannabis use
  • Endocannabinoid function: the function of the endocannabinoid system, the body’s natural signaling system that responds to cannabis and its own cannabis-like molecules
  • Cannabinoid as treatment: using cannabinoids to treat
    specific diseases or conditions
  • Cannabis treatment: treatment for cannabis use and abuse

  • Research into treatments using cannabinoid drugs (cannabinoid-as-treatment) received more than 15 times more funding than research into treatments using cannabis itself (cannabis-as-treatment).
  • Funding for some research areas, such as cannabinoid-as-treatment—using cannabinoid drugs as treatments for diseases or conditions—increased dramatically between 2000 and 2018. Funding for other areas, such as the prevention of cannabis use was steadier over time.
  • Between 2000 and 2018, relative levels of funding for research focused on preventing or treating cannabis use or abuse decreased, while relative levels of funding for research focused on using cannabis and cannabinoids as treatments for other conditions or diseases increased. This may be reflective of changing attitudes toward cannabis over the last two decades.
  • In Canada, the top funded category, accounting for more than 43% of funding, focused on research looking at the function of the endocannabinoid system. This was followed by research into the effects of cannabis, and research into using cannabinoids as treatments.

Conclusion

We have heard many discussions and much outrage

regarding the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) scheduling of cannabis as a class I drug alongside heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote. DEA Schedule I is the only category of controlled substances not allowed to be prescribed by a physician.
Under 21 U.S.C. § 812, drugs must meet three criteria in order to be placed in Schedule I:

• The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.

• The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.

• There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

This scheduling has made it nearly impossible for academia and industry to research cannabis.

Hudson and Hellth.com provide great insight into cannabis research grants to date and clearly show that the lion’s share of funding awarded has gone to research on the harmful effects of cannabis and drug abuse. Federal law has labeled cannabis as a “highly addictive” and “not medically useful” drug, and this has not only suppressed active research into cannabis, it has also resulted in billions of taxpayer dollars being spent investigating the potential harms of cannabis. It is taxpayer’s money that is being used to fuel cannabis stigma because research grants aimed at examining beneficial effects of cannabis are not awarded at anywhere near the same level as those that focus on abuse and harms.

Dr. Sue Sisley and the Scottsdale Research Institute sued the DEA for failing to take any action on Dr. Sisley’s cannabis research application (see Suzanne Sisley et al. v. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration et al., case number 20-71433, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit). The DEA had announced in August 2016 that it would permit research, however, four years later had not taken action on 26 applications. By the lawsuit, Dr. Sisley forced the DEA to publish rules about research applications and to settle with them. The DEAs response was due in November and was not available at the time of writing this article.

Lastly, with the recent addition of states just passing cannabis legalization, as well as the decriminalization of psychedelics in Washington, D.C. and the legalization of psilocybin therapy in Oregon, it is clear that voters are favoring a medical treatment approach versus a “war on drugs” approach that has incarcerated millions of Americans for cannabis related crimes. It is critical that we continue to fight to grow cannabis science and learn more about the therapeutic effects of cannabis plants, and our voice is growing louder. Be safe and be vigilant.

About Jim Hudson and Hellth.com

Dr. Jim Hudson has more than 30 years of experience in various aspects of health research. Before establishing the consultancy, he worked as academic cancer researcher in Canada, the US, and the UK as well as an executive overseeing both research and health policy functions of major breast cancer charities in the UK and Canada.

hellth.com is a special project undertaken by a small consultancy specializing in health research classification, analysis, and strategic development. Their clients have included large and small organizations in both the public and voluntary sectors. https://hellth.com/#/welcome


About the Columnist


Joshua Crossney is the columnist and editor of “Cannabis Crossroads” and a contributing editor to Cannabis Science and Technology magazine. Crossney is also the president and
CEO of CSC Events. Direct correspondence to:
Josh@CannabisScienceConference.com

How to Cite this Article

J. Crossney, Cannabis Science and Technology 3(9), 30-32 (2020).