Harvard and MIT are now the recipients of the largest private investment supporting American cannabis research.
Two of the most prestigious educational institutes in the country will split a new $9 million donation intended to support cannabis research. Preforming quality cannabis research is typically excessively difficult, as the federal government continues to throw roadblocks in front of universities trying to do it.
Currently, researchers looking to study cannabis have to source all of their product through a single government-approved cultivator. The process is often long and the cannabis they end up with is often not comparable to what consumers are actually using. Bypassing the federal government and buying cannabis from even state-legal sources can still see their research funding pulled.
But, as MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences John Gabrieli said, "a fast-changing regulatory environment" means that with secure private funding researchers can access high-quality legal cannabis and perform research with little concern.
And that means scientists can finally get down to the business of figuring out marijuana.
"The lack of basic science research enables people to make claims in a vacuum that are either anecdotal or based on old science," the donor, Charles R. 'Bob' Broderick—founder of the investment firm Uji Capital—told The Boston Globe. "For generations we haven't been able to study this thing for various sorts of societal reasons. That should end now, as well as the prohibitions that are falling around the world."
At MIT the fund will be going towards funding research on how cannabis affects schizophrenia patients. Other studies include exploring whether or not cannabis can help treat symptoms of autism and Huntington's disease, as well as the effects of cannabis on working memory.
The Harvard team, on the other hand, plans to build a better base understanding of the over 100 different chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, found in cannabis. Most of which science knows almost nothing about, let alone how they impact the body when consumed.
"Marijuana has about 100 different cannabinoid compounds. We understand very little about the specific effects of each of them on the nervous system," said Bruce Bean, Harvard neurobiology professor and one of the project's researchers.
With any luck, Bean says that the new research coming out of these two institutions will help push the federal government to approve more cannabis research moving forward.
"We're very excited about this. I think it's going to stimulate some interesting research," Bean said.
Some people, however, have raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest with the upcoming research. Broderick, the grant's donor, has a history of investing in the cannabis space and arguably has a lot to gain if the research findings are positive. But experts like Josephine Johnston—director of research at the bioethics think tank the Hastings Center—said that situations like this are pretty much unavoidable and reputable institutions have safeguards in place to limit conflicts of interest as much as possible.
"In a pure world, you wouldn't have a situation like this. But it's pretty much a fact of life of biomedical research in the United States that you have interested parties funding research," said Johnston.
Both MIT and Harvard have already stated that Broderick will have no say in the final process and all research will be published, regardless of the findings.