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NIH Research on Marijuana and Cannabinoids

Revised March 2016

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 – plant leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds collected from the Cannabis sativa plant and ingested in some form (cigarettes, vapor).
  • 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 2015, the NIH supported 281 projects totaling over $111 million on cannabinoid research. Within this investment, 49 projects ($21 million) examined therapeutic properties of cannabinoids, and 15 projects ($9 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 2015 is shown below.

Cannabinoid Research
NIH IC # of Projects FY15 Investment
NCCAM 1 $496,483
NCI 3 $904,486
NEI 2 $725,828
NHLBI 5 $2,845,069
NIA 3 $760,184
NIAAA 37 $19,124,736
NIAMS 1 $395,120
NIBIB 1 $176,736
NICHD 1 $500,000
NIDA 173 $66,078,314
NIDCD 2 $695,493
NIDDK 8 $2,278,677
NIEHS 1 $425,939
NIGMS 6 $1,617,427
NIMH 23 $7,864,668
NINDS 8 $4,909,979
OD 4 $1,140,962
RMAP 2 $335,118
Grand Total 281 $111,275,219
Therapeutic Cannabinoid Research
NIH IC # of Projects FY15 Investment
NCI 1 $323,809
NEI 2 $725,828
NHLBI 3 $2,438,451
NIAAA 6 $2,432,583
NIAMS 1 $395,120
NIDA 24 $10,923,472
NIDDK 2 $599,428
NIGMS 1 $345,068
NIMH 5 $1,408,810
NINDS 4 $1,621,594
Grand Total 49 $21,214,163
Cannabidiol (CBD) Research
NIH IC # of Projects FY15 Investment
NIAAA 2 $1,577,736
NIDA 11 $6,854,092
NINDS 1 $390,000
RMAP 1 $213,618
Grand Total 15 $9,035,446

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

This page was last updated March 2016

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