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The NCI Wants to Understand How Marijuana Affects Cancer

The agency is giving grants to studies that look into the potential of cannabis for treatment.

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The federal government may still consider marijuana illegal, but federally-funded institutes have a growing interest in the potential use of cannabis to treat cancer patients.

That became apparent in a recent Notice of Special Interest issued by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), saying they wanted to promote research into "understanding the mechanisms by which cannabis and cannabinoids affect cancer biology, cancer interception, cancer treatment and resistance, and management of cancer symptoms."

The NCI is making a list of grants available that provide federal funding for researchers. The announcement is a huge leap forward in a country where federal law has long held back effective cannabis research and there's been an anti-cannabis bias.

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The NCI want promotes more research

In the notice, the NCI laid the groundwork that justifies further research into the use of cannabis for cancer patients. The notice reports that in a 2019 survey, 48 million people in the United States reported using cannabis in the past year, an 87 percent increase over a similar survey in 2002.

The NCI also quoted a study that found as many as 25 percent of cancer patients use cannabis and cannabinoids to manage symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment, including anorexia, nausea and pain. "Despite the increase in cannabis and cannabinoid use, research about their health effects, including potential harms and benefits, remain limited," the NCI wrote.

The NCI, which works within the National Institutes of Health, hopes to change that situation by offering grants that will first become available June 2022 through September 2022. The expiration date for the grants is May 8, 2027.

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What are the types of research the NCI will fund?

The NCI said that types of cannabis eligible for study include exogenous cannabis, cannabis-derived products or extracts, purified or synthetic cannabinoids, and endogenous cannabinoids. They also listed "areas of research interest" that the NCI wants to fund.

  • Understanding how exogenous cannabis and cannabinoids affect cancer development (preneoplasia through malignancy) and biology, including the tumor microenvironment.
  • Understanding how endogenous cannabinoid pathways influence cancer development and biology.
  • Defining the effects of cannabis and cannabinoids on cancer treatment (particularly targeted treatments and immunotherapy) and the development of treatment resistance.
  • Understanding the use of cannabis and cannabinoids in cancer interception and delineating how endocannabinoid signaling pathways may inhibit early cancers.
  • Defining the mechanisms of cannabis and cannabinoid action in alleviating symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment (such as pain, nausea and neuropathy).
  • Understanding the combinatorial effects of cannabis and cannabinoids in conjunction with other factors (such as tobacco constituents, alcohol, microbiome, or diet) on cancer biology, treatment and symptom management.
  • Identifying biological mechanisms underlying disparities in sex or ethnicity in cannabis and cannabinoid action in cancer biology, treatment or symptom management.
  • Developing or validating new and human-relevant model systems to understand cannabis and cannabinoid action in cancer biology, treatment or symptom management.

Contact information for researchers, as well as information on how to apply, is contained in the notice.

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