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NIH Research on Marijuana and Cannabinoids

Revised May 2018

Developing the Therapeutic Potential of the Endocannabinoid System for Pain Treatment (PA-15-188) - The purpose of this NIH Pain Consortium-endorsed funding opportunity announcement is to support projects examining the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids and endocannabinoid system across a variety of pain conditions

The NIH supports a broad portfolio of research on cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system. This research portfolio includes some studies utilizing the whole marijuana plant (Cannabis sativa), but most studies focus on individual cannabinoid compounds. Individual cannabinoid chemicals may be isolated and purified from the marijuana plant or synthesized in the laboratory, or they may be naturally occurring (endogenous) cannabinoids found in the body.

Cannabinoids are classified here as:

  • Phytocannabinoids – cannabinoids found in leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds collected from the Cannabis sativa plant.
  • Endogenous – cannabinoids made by the body: examples include N-arachidonoylethanolamine or anandamide (AE) or 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).  AE and 2-AG activity can be manipulated by inhibiting their corresponding hydrolases FAAH or MAGL, preventing their degradation.
  • Purified naturally occurring cannabinoids purified from plant sources:  examples include cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC),.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids synthesized in a laboratory: examples include CB1 agonists (CPP-55, ACPA), CB2 agonists (JWH-133, NMP7, AM1241), CB1/CB2 nonselective agonist (CP55940), ajulemic acid (AJA), nabilone, and dronabinol.

There is considerable interest in the possible therapeutic uses of marijuana and its constituent compounds (see NIDA's DrugFacts, Is Marijuana Medicine?). In 2015, the NIH developed three reporting categories to describe the research efforts underway to examine the chemical, physiological, and therapeutic properties of cannabinoids and the physiological systems they affect.

  1. Cannabinoid Research reports the total NIH investment in all cannabinoid research including basic research, animal and human preclinical studies, and clinical research. Studies examining cannabis use disorder and societal/health impacts due to changing marijuana laws and policies are also included. Studies examine all classes of cannabinoids (purified, synthetic, endogenous, phytocannabinoids), molecules that modify their concentration or activity (e.g. FAAH inhibitors), as well as the physiological systems they target (e.g. endocannabinoid system).
  2. Cannabidiol Research – subset of the Cannabinoid Research category that reports all NIH projects examining basic, preclinical, and therapeutic properties of CBD.
  3. Therapeutic Cannabinoid Research – subset of the Cannabinoid Research category (above) that reports all NIH projects examining the therapeutic properties of all classes of cannabinoids (purified, synthetic, endogenous, phytocannabinoids).

These categories are publically accessible on the NIH Categorical Spending website and will be updated annually.

In fiscal year 2017, the NIH supported 330 projects totaling almost $140 million on cannabinoid research. Within this investment, 70 projects ($36 million) examined therapeutic properties of cannabinoids, and 26 projects ($15 million) focused on CBD. Cannabinoid research is supported broadly across NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs), with each IC supporting research specifically focused on the impact of cannabinoids on health effects within their scientific mission. NIH IC investment in each of these categories for fiscal year 2017 is shown below. Note that each category is not mutually exclusive; some projects are assigned to multiple categories.

Cannabinoid Research
NIH IC # of Projects FY17 Investment
NCATS 1 $442,958
NCCIH 4 $2,254,745
NCI 3 $1,672,397
NEI 2 $740,337
NHLBI 7 $4,668,601
NIA 6 $2,307,509
NIAAA 37 $21,542,490
NIAID 1 $209,375
NIBIB 1 $180,341
NICHD 4 $1,659,294
NIDA 209 $88,171,781
NIDCD 1 $309,750
NIDCR 1 $1
NIDDK 11 $3,398,310
NIGMS 3 $714,974
NIMH 21 $6,460,023
NINDS 12 $3,556,637
OD 6 $1,613,930
Grand Total 330 $139,903,453
Therapeutic Cannabinoid Research
NIH IC # of Projects FY17 Investment
NCATS 1 $442,958
NCCIH 2 $1,147,231
NCI 3 $1,672,397
NEI 2 $740,337
NHLBI 5 $3,528,741
NIA 2 $1,237,000
NIAAA 10 $6,543,372
NIDA 30 $16,337,519
NIDDK 1 $448,433
NIMH 5 $1,180,283
NINDS 7 $1,998,161
OD 2 $1,014,266
Grand Total 70 $36,290,698
Cannabidiol (CBD) Research
NIH IC # of Projects FY17 Investment
NCCIH 1 $695,709
NCI 4 $809,827
NHLBI 1 $538,692
NIAAA 4 $1,032,058
NIDA 15 $11,041,161
NINDS 3 $817,562
OD 1 $124,121
Grand Total 26 $15,059,130

Also see - Independently Funded Human Studies Approved to Receive Marijuana - 1999 to present

This page was last updated May 2018

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