Harvard, MIT Receive $9 Million Donation to Conduct Marijuana Research
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The rapid spread of marijuana legalization has been coupled with concerns among medical researchers about gaps in knowledge on what cannabis can and cannot do in terms of health benefits.
Unfortunately, with the United States federal government continuing to list cannabis as an illegal drug, it’s been hard to get funding for research. It also doesn't help that what little marijuana is available for research is of far worse quality than what people routinely purchase at the local dispensary (or on the black market, for that matter).
However, cannabis research in the U.S. got a shot in the arm this month when Charles Broderick, head of a New York-based global equity firm, dontated $9 million for cannabis research to be split between Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology . Broderick’s goal is clear cut, according to the Harvard Gazette: “Our desire is to fill the research void that currently exists in the science of cannabis.”
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Massachusetts Makes a Difference
How can the two prestigious schools manage to fill the marijuana research void with marijuana still illegal at the federal level? According to Rolling Stone, the answer lies in the fact that Massachusetts started legal recreational marijuana sales this year. That “makes it easier for the research to take place at the Boston-based schools,” the music magazine wrote.
A researcher at MIT told the Boston Globe that the school plans to get cannabis of a higher grade than what is available from the University of Mississippi, which currently operates the only federal-sanctioned site to grow marijuana for research.
The researcher also said that without Broderick’s donation, none of the research would be happening as quickly as now planned. The illegal nature of marijuana in the past -- a situation that still exists at the national level -- has made getting research funding difficult.
Where Research Will Focus
MIT plans to launch research into how THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) impact the cognitive function of people suffering from schizophrenia. Other MIT studies will focus on the use of cannabis for those with autism and Huntington’s disease, as well as the impact on attention and working memory.
At Harvard Medical School, the money will fund creation of the Charles R. Broderick Phytocannabinoid Research Initiative. Initial research will focus on marijuana’s impact on brain cell function and the connections between brain cells.
Donor Stands to Gain
While the donation received universal praise, it also generated conversation over the ethics of the donation. Broderick is an investor in cannabis companies in Canada, where pot is legal for medical and recreational use nationwide.
The Globe wrote that many might wonder if his position could create bias in the research. After all, if new uses of cannabis are found, Broderick stands to make more money. But if dangers are found in using marijuana for medical purposes, he stands to lose money.
However, both Harvard and MIT have rules in place that govern research, ensuring that researchers have complete control over their work and the results.
For this part, Broderick told the Harvard Gazette, “I want to destigmatize the conversation around cannabis -- and, in part, that means providing facts to the medical community, as well as the general public. Then we’re all working from the same information. We need to replace rhetoric with research.”