Currently there is considerable interest in the possible therapeutic uses of marijuana (see our fact sheet, “Is Marijuana Medicine?”). As of January 31, 2014, there were 28 active grants related to this topic, funded by NIDA, in 6 different disease categories (see table, below). Therapeutic research is defined here as projects that include (as at least one of their specific aims) investigation of the potential medical benefit of the marijuana plant (Cannabis sativa) or its constituentcannabinoid chemicals in human or animal models of disease.
Most of these research projects are examining the medical benefits of individual cannabinoid chemicals derived from or related to those in the marijuana plant, not the plant itself, although a few use unprocessed plant material. 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 and modified using other, non-cannabinoid chemicals.
Specifically, cannabinoids are classified here as:
- Plant – plant leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds collected from the Cannabis sativa plant and ingested in some form (cigarettes, vapor); also known as phytocannabinoids.
- Endogenous – cannabinoids made by the body: N-arachidonoylethanolamine or anandamide (AE) or 2-arachidonoylglycerol ( 2-AG). AE and 2-AG activity is manipulated by inhibiting their corresponding hydrolases FAAH or MAGL, preventing their degradation.
- Purified – naturally occurring cannabinoids purified from plant sources: Cannabidiol (CBD), D9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and Sativex (mixture of THC and CBD).
- Synthetic –cannabinoids synthesized in a laboratory: CB1 agonists (CPP-55, ACPA), CB2 agonists (JWH-133, NMP7, AM1241), CB1/CB2 nonselective agonist (CP55,940), Ajulemic Acid (AJA), Nabilone, Dronabinol, and several other proprietary chemicals in development as potential cannabinoid agonists and antagonists for therapeutic use.
How the Portfolio Analysis Was Conducted:
- An internal NIH database (QVR) was searched on January 31, 2014 using the following: TEXT word string “cannabinoid OR cannabis OR marijuana”; active grants
- 317 grants were manually screened to identify studies in which at least one specific aim included a therapeutic focus.
- 28 projects were identified (25 projects + 3 supplements) and are listed in the table below.
In the table, projects are divided into six disease categories:autoimmune diseases, inflammation, pain, psychiatric disorders, seizures, and substance use disorders (SUDs). Clicking on individual project titles leads to their descriptions in NIH RePorter. Also listed are the cannabinoid substances being examined and, except in cases when the whole plant was used, whether the studied chemicals are purified from the plant, synthetic, or endogenous; and whether the project uses human or animal subjects.