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NCCIH Research Blog

Ongoing NCCIH Opportunities for Scientists Researching Cannabis

April 2, 2020

David Shurtleff, Ph.D.

David Shurtleff, Ph.D.

Deputy Director

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

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Managing pain effectively is a major challenge, in part because our current drug-based treatments, particularly opioid medications, carry risks such as adverse events and substance misuse. NCCIH has been expanding its efforts to support discovery and strengthen the evidence on novel, nonaddictive natural products, in the contexts of pain, opioid use disorder, and other pain-related comorbidities. Today, I’d like to discuss NCCIH’s recent funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) and related activities pertaining to cannabinoids and terpenes from the cannabis herb (marijuana).

The cannabis plant is a unique source of phytochemicals, including more than 100 cannabinoids and terpenes, each with its own pharmacology. So far, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been the most studied, but others such as cannabidiol (CBD) are also intriguing. While public interest in and use of cannabis and its derivatives has accelerated, the evidence lags behind. One example of a research question is whether the potential pain-relieving properties of cannabis can be separated from its psychoactive properties. 

NCCIH’s recent FOAs and related activities include: 

  • Cosponsoring NIH PA-18-917, Developing the Therapeutic Potential of the Endocannabinoid System for Pain Treatment (R01 - Clinical Trial Optional). NCCIH’s particular interest in these R01 projects is (a) the role of naturally occurring phytocannabinoids and their derivatives—alone or in conjunction with other complementary approaches—to modulate the biological and neural systems associated with pain, and (b) clarification of the mechanisms underlying analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Research supported under this FOA is wide ranging. In general, the context is understanding the role of cannabinoids in the management of chronic pain, in part to help mitigate the high rates of use and abuse of opioids. 
  • We have also published Notice of Special Interest [NOSI]: Exploring the Mechanisms Underlying Analgesic Properties of Minor Cannabinoids and Terpenes (NOT-AT-20-002). Our intention is to support innovative basic and mechanistic research studies focusing on uncovering the potential pain-relieving properties of minor cannabinoids and terpenes and underlying mechanisms of their impact on pain. Areas of special interest and how to apply under six parent FOAs are listed in the notice. 
  • Save the date! On October 23, 2020, NCCIH will hold an online webinar for investigators about our opportunities in cannabis research, highlighting progress from NCCIH-supported cannabinoid-based research project grants. Details will be posted on our News and Events page closer to the date. We are inviting 12 principal investigators, including those from nine recent cannabinoid-related NCCIH research awards, to share their expertise with webinar participants. 
  • If you have not yet seen it, you may be interested in the summary of NCCIH’s scientific workshop in December 2018 on the current and future landscapes for cannabis research within the present regulatory environment. 

We encourage all interested investigators to carefully read any FOA to determine areas of special interest and to consult with the NCCIH contact listed before submitting an application. This helps determine whether your concept aligns with the Center’s priorities. We hope you’ll consider joining our effort to expand the evidence base on efficacy and safety of cannabinoids in pain management. 

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