The United States government plans to spend $3 million studying whether marijuana has pain-relieving effects.
However, it will only be studying the parts of the plant that do not get users high.
Study Will Focus on Chronic Pain Relief
According to NBC News, the money is coming from nine research grants that were announced on Thursday (Sept. 19). The grants will allow researchers to delve deeper into the pain-treating properties of CBD and other lesser-known chemicals in marijuana. The chemical THC, which is what users get high from, is not included in the research plans.
When it comes to pain management using the chemicals from marijuana, “The science is strongest for chronic pain, the most common reason people give when they enroll in state-approved medical marijuana programs,” NBC notes.
Dr. David Shurtleff is the deputy director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which is funding the projects. He says THC has been studied “extensively” already and that the dangers of the chemical don’t make it a good option for treating pain. He adds that the hope is to catch up to the current use of other chemicals in marijuana.
“The science is lagging behind the public use and interest. We’re doing our best to catch up here,” he said.
According to Shurtleff, the grants come as a response to the 2017 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report which stated that there was a lack of research surrounding marijuana, making it a “public health risk.”
Responding To The Opioid Crisis
Another motivator for the research on the pain-easing properties of marijuana is the opioid epidemic, which is rooted in the use of prescription painkillers.
Dr. Judith Hellman, a grant recipient from University of California San Francisco, is researching the ability of the body to create signaling molecules that are similar to the ingredients in marijuana.
Hellman says it’s vital for scientists to more deeply explore pain and its treatment. “It’s very exciting to have the opportunity to do that,” she said.
According to NBC, only one of the grant projects involves human test subjects. University of Utah researcher Deborah Yurgelun-Todd plans to run brain scans of volunteers suffering from lower back pain. Her plan is to determine how CBD mixed with chocolate pudding can affect the pain-signaling pathways in the brain.
Many of the new projects will use lab-made versions of the chemicals, instead of extracting them from the plant itself, according to NBC.