The federal government just announced plans to fund new research exploring the benefits and risks of using cannabis to treat cancer.
Last week, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a Notice of Special Interest detailing 16 new grants intended to “promote research in understanding the mechanisms by which cannabis and cannabinoids affect cancer biology, cancer interception, cancer treatment and resistance, and management of cancer symptoms.” The agency hopes to study “exogenous cannabis, cannabis-derived products or extracts, purified or synthetic cannabinoids, and endogenous cannabinoids.”
The NIH explains that although around a quarter of all cancer patients in the US are using cannabis to manage their symptoms, scientific research on this medicine is still inconclusive. Several recent studies have found that several compounds present in cannabis – including THC, CBD, CBG, and even non-psychoactive flavonoids – can shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. Other studies have shown that THC can also increase the growth of certain kinds of tumors in mice, though.
Most of the present research on the cancer-fighting effects of cannabis was either conducted in the lab or on animals, so it is uncertain whether these same benefits or risks will be seen in human subjects. To this end, the NIH is offering grants to researchers who can develop or validate “new and human-relevant model systems to understand cannabis and cannabinoid action in cancer biology, treatment or symptom management.”
Specifically, health officials are looking for research on how natural cannabis or specific cannabinoids can affect cancer cells or tumors, and how this natural medicine could be used to treat or even prevent certain forms of cancer. The NIH also wants to study how tobacco, alcohol, diet, or other factors might interact with cannabis-based cancer treatments. Researchers are also welcomed to study whether ethnicity or gender has any impact on the effectiveness of these treatments.
Many cancer patients are already using cannabis-derived medicines to treat nausea, lack of appetite, pain, or other symptoms associated with cancer or chemotherapy. The FDA has approved two synthetic THC medications to treat these symptoms, and the majority of US states allow cancer patients to access a broader range of medical marijuana products. The NIH is willing to fund additional research that sheds more light on exactly how cannabis can provide relief for these symptoms.
The feds also hope to learn more information about whether or not smoking or vaping weed can increase the risk of contracting cancer. “Epidemiological studies of cannabis use and cancer risk have yielded limited and inconsistent results,” the notice explains. “While cannabis smoke generates many of the same carcinogens as tobacco, studies to date have not shown a link between cannabis smoking and lung cancer risk.”
Applicants will be able to begin applying for these grants between June and September of this year, but the feds will continue soliciting research until May 2027. Some of these grants will only fund early-stage research that does not involve clinical trials, but other funding will be available to researchers who are conducting initial experiments with human subjects.