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Funding for Cannabis Research Primarily Focused on Potential Harms

Written by Lydia Kariuki

A new research database has revealed that most of the funding for cannabis research in the US and UK is directed towards investigating potential harmful effects and not the plant’s medicinal properties.

This has been perceived by the cannabis industry as a “statement” on the heart of the government and other funding bodies. As much as the conversation regarding cannabis legalization is ongoing, the focus seems to be on “mitigating risks” and not tapping into the potential that lies within plant. With this, one might wonder if we are headed back to the years of cannabis stigmatization? Whatever the case, the money trail is quite telling of the status quo on cannabis.

The examination was conducted by Jim Hudson, a consultant for medical charities and government agencies. Data was evaluated from a database of 50 funders—both public and charitable organizations. A total of 3,269 grants directed to cannabis research were included in the analysis. The grants were categorized based on their focus.

The analysis stretched over a 19-year period from 2000–2018 and involved the US, UK, and Canada. During this period, funding to the tune of $1.56 billion was directed towards cannabis. Interestingly, more than half this amount was spent on researching hypothetical harms of cannabis. Of the $1.56 billion, a whopping $1 billion was doled out by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

For the period under investigation, the US spent $1.49 billion, the UK $40 million, and Canada $32.2 million. Cannabis research in the US and the UK focused on the harmful effects of cannabis. Research in Canada was more focused on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) which is involved regulating important physiological functions such as pain, inflammation, metabolism, mood, hormonal function, and sleep. [1] The ECS forms the basis of medicinal cannabis and cannabinoid-based therapies.

Unfortunately, researchers must confront the fact that cannabis is still categorized by the US government as a Schedule I drug devoid of medicinal merit. This, in turn, correlates to the lack of money available to identify and validate the plant’s medicinal value.

All hope is not lost though.

Research funding for better understanding Cannabis sativa is growing. In 2000, funding for this type of research in the US was at $30 million; in 2018, it stood at $143 million.

Image Source Nick YoungsonCC BY-SA 3.0Alpha Stock Images


  1. Zou S, Kumar U. Cannabinoid receptors and the endocannabinoid system: Signaling and function in the central nervous system. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2018;19(3):833. Journal Impact Factor: 4.556; Times Cited: 78 (PubMed)

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Lydia Kariuki

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