NIH, NIDA Announce New Funding for Unprecedented Cannabis Research

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, within the National Institutes of Health, is leaning into funding for cannabis research. 

Specifically, the Institute announced a funding opportunity “to support human and animal research on the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol that is present in cannabis and cannabis products,” or in other words, what different concentrations of THC delivered through various vehicles of consumption do to the body. 

The announcement, posted last week, notes that applications are due in February, and comes on the heels of NIDA’s establishment of a standardized dose of THC for research, which became a requirement in May.  

NIDA and a handful of other NIH institutes are aiming for “consistency in the measurement and reporting of THC exposure,” which, the announcement notes, is “crucial for comparing findings across human studies on cannabis use.” 

And to “address this problem,” these agencies are requiring that researchers who are working on THC studies that include humans to “report their results using a Standard THC Unit (STU),” which is 5 milligrams of THC. “The establishment of an STU should inform us on the effects of THC in different cannabis products at varying doses and using different routes of administration.” 

“Past research has been important, but has limitations. And as a result of that, there has been a lot of questioning of the results that have emerged from that research. And we want to change that, such that the future studies can not be criticized for the lack of rigor in quantifying the level of exposure,” NIDA director Nora Volkow told Cannabis Wire in May

The funding announcement clearly lays out “topics of interest,” which include some that are connected to thornier areas of policy, like testing for cannabis impairment. One area of interest is regarding the determination of “THC and its metabolites in biological matrices including blood, plasma, serum, urine, oral fluid, and breath following administration of varying amounts of THC using different routes of administration in occasional or frequent cannabis users.” 

The institute also wants research that examines the “effects of demographic and other potentially relevant” aspects of cannabis use, including within “specific populations,” like teenagers, young adults, older adults, and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. (As Cannabis Wire has reported, cannabis use among people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and youth use, is top of mind for federal and state lawmakers and regulators.) 

There’s also interest in bioavailability of THC by various consumption modes and products, as well as the effects of different types of consumption, from casual to more regulator consumers, on outcomes including “body sway, adaptive tracking, heart rate, blood pressure, oculomotor effects, cognition, psychomotor performance, mood, dizziness, sedation, craving, pharmaco-EEG effects,” among other effects.  

Broadly, the announcement also lists interest in studying different modes of consumption, from oral to vape and topical, and including products including “vaping cartridges, edibles, concentrates, hashish, tinctures, topicals, and flower, with differing amounts of other cannabinoids and terpenes.”

“There has been a proliferation of cannabis products available to consumers yet there is a relative dearth of information on how these products affect health. The effects of THC, the main psychotropic component of cannabis, on the body is likely driven by a variety of factors including its concentration, route of administration, presence of other cannabinoid and non-cannabinoid constituents, among others,” Jennifer A. Hobin, deputy director of the Office of Science and Communications at NIDA, told Cannabis Wire in an email. 

“However, a systematic assessment of how such factors impact the effects of THC exposure is lacking.” 

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