The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)—part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—announced Thursday the award of nine research grants totaling approximately $3 million to “investigate the potential pain-relieving properties and mechanisms of actions of the diverse phytochemicals in cannabis, including both minor cannabinoids and terpenes.”
“The treatment of chronic pain has relied heavily on opioids, despite their potential for addiction and overdose and the fact that they often don’t work well when used on a long-term basis,” NCCIH Director Dr. Helene Langevin said in the release. “There’s an urgent need for more effective and safer options.”
One of the “safer options” being investigated is the cannabinoid CBD, which—despite a lack of scientific research due to cannabis prohibition—already is being used by consumers to treat a variety of ailments, including pain.
“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 at NCCIH, the organization funding the research projects.
Dr. Shurtleff is looking forward to the increase in CBD research but makes a rather dubious claim against THC. According to him, THC has been studied extensively and its addictive properties make it unsuitable for treating pain. Many would contest that argument, as again, THC research also was greatly suppressed during prohibition and its effects on the body are not fully understood.
The ongoing opioid epidemic seems to be a key motivator for federal authorities to expand cannabinoid research. Currently, medical providers are in need of safer treatment options when it comes to pain relief. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has recently called for a decrease in opioid production and big pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma, are facing stiff penalties for their roles in the epidemic.
Dr. Judith Hellman, a researcher at the University of California San Francisco and one of the grant recipients, is eager for scientists to gain a better understanding of pain and how it can be alleviated. “It’s very exciting to have the opportunity to do that,” she said.
University of Utah researcher Dr. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd plans to scan human brains as part of a study examining CBD’s impact on study participants experiencing lower back pain. While half of the participants will receive a placebo, all of the participants are in for a tasty treat. The experimental group will receive CBD mixed with chocolate pudding while the control group will receive only chocolate pudding. While this may seem humorous, a recent study identified high-fat content foods as having the ability to increase the body’s CBD absorption rate.
Recipients of the remaining seven grants are as follows: Dr. Sara J. Ward at Temple University, Philadelphia; Dr. David Sarlah at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Dr. Cassandra L. Quave at Emory University, Atlanta; Dr. Andrew Ellington at University of Texas, Austin; Dr. Yu-Shin Ding at New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Dr. Jenny L. Wiley at Research Triangle Institute, North Carolina; and Drs. Juan Hong Wang and Zhigang He at Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston.
While a broad range of cannabinoids and terpenes will be studied under the nine issued grants, none of the studies will include THC.