The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recently announced that it will fund research into how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting users of cannabis, tobacco, or other drugs. The agency is planning to offer two separate grants to researchers who are willing to study how drug users may be uniquely impacted by coronavirus infections.

“As people across the US and the rest of the world prepare for what could be a pandemic of the 2019 novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, the research community should be alert to the possibility that it could affect some populations with substance use disorders or HIV particularly hard,” NIDA wrote in a Notice of Special Interest last month. “Because it attacks the lungs, COVID-19 could be an especially serious threat to those with histories of smoking tobacco or marijuana or of vaping.”

The notice also explains that users of opioids or methamphetamines may also be especially vulnerable to coronavirus, as these drugs weaken the immune system and increase risks to pulmonary and respiratory health. NIDA also notes that “additional social and environmental factors associated with drug use may worsen the transmission and treatment of COVID-19, especially among individuals who experience homelessness or incarceration, which is more common among those with a substance use disorder.”

The agency is offering two grants to researchers who are willing to study any or all of its research objectives. NIDA is particularly interested in learning whether substance use, especially smoking or vaping tobacco or marijuana, makes individuals more susceptible to becoming infected by this virus. Researchers are also encouraged to explore how active coronavirus infections affect people who are currently using tobacco, pot, opioids, or meth.

NIDA also encourages research into how prisons, jails, homeless shelters, and other locations that deal with vulnerable populations can work to effectively identify, prevent, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Researchers are also asked to study how HIV patients who are substance users might be uniquely affected by this virus.

Research into how the coronavirus could impact opioid users is also welcomed, including studies exploring whether COVID-19 infections influence the rates of opioid overdoses in pain patients or opioid addicts. New studies could also investigate whether overcrowded hospital emergency rooms might make it more difficult for doctors to effectively serve individuals suffering from opioid overdoses or opioid use disorder.

NIDA will accept applications for these grants on a rolling basis from now until March 31st of 2021. The agency will only accept applications for studies that can be finished within two years, and will offer up to $100,000 per year in funding. 

It is rare to see the federal government cough up funding to conduct research on cannabis and other federally-prohibited drugs. But as more and more states legalize medical and adult-use marijuana, the feds have been offering more funding to weed-related research. 

In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration has funded studies researching whether medical cannabis can help treat PTSD or reduce the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, and it even approved one CBD-based medicine to treat epilepsy. The FDA is also funding fast-track studies that could lead to the legalization of MDMA– and psilocybin-assisted therapy within the next few years.