Advocates of cannabis and non-psychoactive derivatives across the nation – from hemp extract to cannabidiol – have long reported a number of benefits that they’ve personally experienced, and have attributed to their use of cannabinoids. In fact, cannabis, cannabidiol and other components of the plant have been credited with the reduction of symptoms like physical pain, nausea, and anxiety, as well as improvements in sleep and focus.

While many users swear by these benefits, thorough, federally-funded studies have been much less frequent than ideal for the support of such claims. While broad-spectrum hemp extract has gained acceptance as a useful compound for numerous purposes, other non-psychoactive cannabinoids have fallen prey to public skepticism. Critics and naysayers mention this lack of empirical large-scale findings for their continued skepticism. Research in support of cannabinoids and their purported benefits has been impeded by remaining legal barriers at the Federal level – frustrating many whose claims are disbelieved due to the infancy of the large-scale clinical trials that depend on government grants. Nevertheless, these barriers have fallen with staggering speed over the span of the past several years. Thirty-three American states now legally permit the use of cannabis to some degree, whether in the form of decriminalizing its possession, approving it for medicinal use, or fully legalizing it for all residents above the age of 21.

While stigmas remain in some circles surrounding cannabis, many are more open to the potential benefits of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive derivative of the cannabis plant. Like cannabis, many report cannabidiol as beneficial for an expansive range of ailments but curse its lack of empirical Federal research to corroborate the findings of both smaller studies and the lived experiences of its numerous advocates.

Cannabidiol made national news this week, with United States government officials announcing nine new individual research grants, all of which will support the research of cannabidiol and its medicinal benefits. The grants will total to more than three million dollars in government funding.

This research is being funded primarily by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “The science is lagging behind the public use and interest,” explained the organization’s deputy director, Dr. David Shurtleff. “We’re doing our best to catch up here.” Shurtleff further commented that cannabis itself has been deemed less than ideal for the treatment of pain, citing its propensity for addiction and abuse, especially amongst users with genetic predispositions for either.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health certainly isn’t the only organization in support of marijuana research. However, up to this point, most of the funding from fellow research organizations has worked solely to investigating marijuana’s potential ills. Such studies met the 2017 request for increased research into potential risks of marijuana use following its spike in legalization for recreational use – which spurned from concerns that a lack of such knowledge risked the public’s health overall.

Another significant force behind the push for marijuana research is the rising opioid crisis across the United States. This year, legislation passed allowing Doctors to officially recommend marijuana to their patients as a prospective form of treatment for the full breadth of illnesses in which opioid recommendations were approved. Prior to this bill’s passage, marijuana recommendations were more limited legally than the strongest forms of prescription painkillers – something cannabis advocates lauded as baffling and absurd. The opioid crisis garnered increased scientific interest into suitable alternatives with less addictive qualities. This aim renewed the interest of researchers who sought less harmful alternatives.

One University of California San Francisco researcher, Dr. Judith Hellman, received a grant for the study of pain relief and the efficacy of various treatment options. Her work can theoretically help to reduce the detriment of the opioid crisis, which has devastated communities across the United States. “It’s very exciting to be able to do that,” says Hellman.

Dr. Hellman’s latest research focuses on the body’s ability to generate molecules similar to the ingredients of marijuana. In collaboration with Dr. Mark Schumacher, Hellman studies the reactions of human immune cells to added variables. Their experiments are also conducted on mice.

Only one of the nine upcoming grants will involve human participants. This research will commence at the University of Utah under the purview of Dr. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd. In the experiment, University of Utah researchers will give brain-scans to willing participants with existing lower back issues. The participants will be divided into two groups. Both groups will be given chocolate pudding. The treatment group will receive pudding containing a well-mixed, tasteless CBD extract, while the control group’s pudding will be unadulterated. The scans will then examine the pain-signaling pathways and responses amongst those who consumed pudding with CBD versus those whose pudding was plain.

The decision to federally fund CBD research is one that fans and advocates don’t take lightly. In fact, according to the NCCIH, a second round of studies may already be in the works following the completion of the nine pending experiments. Two of these second-round studies are expected to involve human participants.

In the words of University of Illinois researcher Aditi Das, ““There are so many beneficial effects that patients report. We need to know the science behind it.”

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