Newly Launched Institute for Research on Cannabinoids to Further Studies into the Beneficial Effects of Cannabis

Notable cannabis researcher, Marcel Bonn-Miller, takes role as executive director of new nonprofit institute aimed at understanding the medical effects of cannabinoids.

In order to address a shortfall in the level of research done on cannabis, prominent researchers have formed the nonprofit Institute for Research on Cannabinoids or IROC to further the medical community’s understanding of cannabinoids and their effect on the human body.

Although one of the Institute’s first projects is an online survey that will track the medical marijuana use of thousands of patients in California, creating minable data for the medical community, the ultimate goal of the IROC is to shift from an industry driven by anecdotal evidence from patients to one of hard scientific understandings of the function of cannabinoids.

“With any other drug, the research comes before it reaches a patient,” IROC executive director Marcel Bonn-Miller said. “With cannabis, it’s completely the opposite. It’s in the hands of everybody, but nobody knows about dosing, nobody knows the best methods of delivery, nobody knows what strains are best for different uses. The cart is so far before the horse in terms of the gap between research and policy.

Bonn-Miller, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, is a particularly strong choice as IROC’s first executive director. Studying cannabis for over 10 years, he serves on the board of six academic journals and has published more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles on his own research.

After starting his career studying the negative aspects of cannabis, about five years ago Bonn-Miller became increasingly interested in the beneficial effects of cannabinoids.

“I’d been at the Department of Veterans Affairs and some veterans were coming out and saying, ‘This is helping me. If I didn’t have marijuana, I wouldn’t be alive,’ ” Bonn-Miller said. “I think the problems associated with marijuana are real, but we need to understand the other side of the coin.”

Since changing his focus from the negative to the positive effects of cannabis, Bonn-Miller has found that funding for his research has essentially disappeared because most traditional channels refuse to fund this type of research. “From the National Institutes of Health to the VA to whatever, there was nothing.”

Bonn-Miller isn’t the only researcher struggling to receive funding for cannabis studies. This is largely due to the stigma that continues to surround cannabis in many circles in this country. According to recent analysis, of the $1.4 billion spent on cannabis research by the National Institutes of Health, less than $300 million went to understanding the benefits of cannabinoids. The other $1.1 billion was spent on cannabis addiction and abuse studies. The situation is further exacerbated by a general funding shortage from organizations like the National Institutes of Health.

“Traditionally, if you had a compelling reason to do research, you could get funding,” Ethan Russo, medical director at a Los Angeles biotechnology firm, said. “Now nothing is getting funded unless you have something really sexy. And marijuana is like kryptonite.”

Private companies often pick up where nonprofit funding for research falls short. However, due to the nature of the cannabis industry in the U.S., federal laws prohibit the type of payoff a large investment in research provides other industries.

“Let’s suppose my company has an extract of cannabis that would be fantastic for treating pain. We currently cannot take that over state lines, we cannot use it in clinical trials elsewhere, and we cannot export it,” Russo said. “It’s not only anti-science, it’s anti-business.”

The solution then may be to find a way to capitalize on smaller donations from many benefactors. “We need a space to pull in money from lots of different sources and combine it to do rockstar studies,” Bonn-Miller said. This will be one of the primary motives of the newly formed IROC. “We are reaching out to individuals with large pockets and medium-sized businesses in this space that are interested in doing this kind of work,” he said.

However, IROC is hardly the only organization currently focused on cannabis science. The International Cannabis and Cannabinoid Institute launched last year, as did the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics in Australia. More recently, the Center for Medical Cannabis Education & Research opened in Philadelphia. The long running Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research supports cannabinoid research throughout California, with much of the studies done at the University of California, San Diego campus.  

McGill University professor, executive director of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids, and now a member of IROC’s scientific board, Mark Ware remarked “The dialogue nationally and internationally around cannabis has reached a point where it is no longer possible to ignore it. And secondly, there is an industry emerging around medical cannabis. I think you put these two things together, and it’s a perfect storm.”

The IROC has already begun the first-ever study of marijuana’s impact on chronic pain and brain injuries among football players, courtesy of a $80,000 donation from former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle and cannabis advocate Eugene Monroe. Bonn-Miller met with physicians for the NFL and encouraged them to support research into the role cannabidiol (CBD) can play in aiding players’ recovery from concussions, preventing adverse long-term effects from brain injury.

One of these effects is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Kannalife™ Sciences, a portfolio company of Medical Marijuana, Inc., has obtained an exclusive license for the National Institutes of Health patent on cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants to develop a cannabinoid-based treatment for CTE.

To read more about the research that has been performed on the medically beneficial effects of cannabis, visit our education page.