Institutional MMJ Research in the US

By Chris Bond
Published: February 16, 2018 | Last updated: April 8, 2021 11:27:04
Key Takeaways

Throughout a majority of the 20th century, most institutions shied away from conducting cannabis research. That, however, is changing.

At one time, the institutional research of cannabis was commonplace. Its benefits, especially as a cash crop, were well understood and endorsed by local governments and state university systems throughout the United States. This era, of course, ended abruptly when the federal government began its war on marijuana.


Only at the dawning of the 21st century did we begin to see a return to an academic, presumably unbiased approach to the research of the medicinal and numerous other benefits of cannabis. Higher educational institutions in the US typically shied away from cannabis research, and for good reason. Since nearly every educational institution receives federal dollars on some level and cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, most colleges and universities did not want to risk losing any portion of that important funding. There are, however, a few institutions that have taken the lead with MMJ research, especially as more and more states ease restrictions on its use.

The Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp

The Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp, in the Institute of Emerging Health Professions at Thomas Jefferson University, is one such institution. The university contends that it is the first of its kind in the United States to take a systems approach to cannabis, from its socially responsible production, the medicinal benefits and therapies and continued studies thereof, and the business side of the industry. On its website, the center states its goals of the unique program are “(1) provide expert-developed, unbiased information to clinicians and patients about the medical uses of marijuana, hemp extract, and other cannabinoid-focused therapies; (2) conduct research and serve as a networking nidus for multicenter, multinational research to evaluate and elevate the evidence basis for cannabinoid therapy in multiple medical conditions; (3) provide best support for the development of entrepreneurial and socially responsible business and clinical approaches within the emerging medical cannabis industry; and (4) explore and develop new ways to use hemp in medical, industrial, and consumer products.”


Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research

California often leads the way for the nation regarding cannabis, taking risks that other states are reluctant to do. It was the first state in the country, back in 1996, to allow for the medicinal use of cannabis. It is not surprising then to see that the University of California also has devoted funds for the study of medical cannabis.

The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the San Diego campus of UC was developed to study the potential medicinal benefits of cannabis for diseases and conditions identified by the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine Report (1999) and by the Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana, National Institutes of Health (1997). Thus far, they have conducted studies and reported on the effectiveness of cannabis and endocannabinoids on HIV neuropathic pain and the effectiveness of a newly developed vaporized cannabis medicine to combat lower back pain. They have also done a trial on the effects of cannabis on healthy individuals undertaking normal tasks such as driving and other field performance tests.

National Center for Natural Products Research

The National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy has been growing medical marijuana since 2014 for the purpose of clinical studies on the treatment of epileptic seizures in children. Additionally, the school has studied “the botanical, pharmacological, and chemical properties of the cannabis plant.” It has also collaborated “with industry partners in support of the development and commercialization of FDA-approved drug products derived from cannabis.”


As of July 2017, the University of Mississippi remains the only legal grower at the federal level of cannabis in the United States. The University of Mississippi grows marijuana under contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) with a DEA Schedule-I Bulk Manufacturer registration to cultivate plants for the purposes of research.

Medical Cannabis Research Fund

The Medical Cannabis Research Fund (MCRF) is a multi-faculty project at the University of New Mexico that was formed for “conducting scientifically valid and unbiased research on medical cannabis across all areas of social and biomedical sciences.” Since its founding in 2016, the MCRF has conducted a large-scale epidemiological study on the effects of medical marijuana usage on patients suffering from a wide range of health issues. It cites the lack of useful scientific research findings on cannabis with realistic THC levels as one of the many challenges that it is looking to address.


Institute of Cannabis Research

The Institute of Cannabis Research at the University of Colorado at Pueblo is unique for two reasons: it is a partnership between the state, local and university administration and governments, and it is responsible for publishing the first-ever scholarly journal dedicated to the research of medical marijuana, the Journal of Cannabis Studies.

“The primary function of the institute will be the generation of knowledge to science, medicine, and society through investigation of the benefits and risks associated with the use of cannabis. Research findings will be used to translate discoveries into innovative applications that improve lives,” Lesley Di Mare, University of Colorado at Pueblo president, said during the institute’s opening. “The Institute aligns with the university’s mission as a provider of education, research, and service to the region and will create new educational opportunities for CSU-Pueblo students. The institute will comply with applicable Colorado and federal laws in its work with cannabis.”

These are not the only institutes of higher learning devoted to the cause of medical marijuana research, though they are certainly some of the more prominent ones in the US. Other universities outside of the US have or are about to begin similar programs. These include England’s Oxford University and Israel’s Hebrew University, where some of the first academic work on medicinal cannabis took place in the 1960s and 1970s by renowned researcher Raphael Mechoulam.


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Written by Chris Bond | Certified Permaculture Designer, Nursery Technician, Nursery Professional

Profile Picture of Chris Bond

Chris Bond’s research interests are with sustainable agriculture, biological pest control, and alternative growing methods. He is a certified permaculture designer and certified nursery technician in Ohio and a certified nursery professional in New York, where he got his start in growing.

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