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Grant Opportunity Announced for Cannabis Cancer Treatment Research |

Researchers who treat cannabis with grant money will be soon able to access them. 

A “Notice of Special Interest” (NOSI) (entitled “Basic Mechanisms of Cannabis and Cannabinoid Action in Cancer”) was posted on May 5 by NIH’s National Cancer Institute, with the intent “to promote research in understanding the mechanisms by which cannabis and cannabinoids affect cancer biology, cancer interception, cancer treatment and resistance, and management of cancer symptoms.”

The notice from NIH explains how this decision was made due to growing numbers of patients with cancer seeking to use medical marijuana for relief. However, there is not sufficient evidence to support its efficacy. “Cancer patients use cannabis and cannabinoids to manage symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment including anorexia, nausea, and pain,” the NOSI states. “Recent survey evidence suggests that a quarter of cancer patients have used cannabis for symptom management. Despite the increase in cannabis and cannabinoid use, research about their health effects, including potential harms and benefits, remain limited.” 

This notice summarises what we know about cannabis treatment for cancer and explains that not much data is available on the risk to patients with cancer. “Epidemiological studies of cannabis use and cancer risk have yielded limited and inconsistent results,” the notice explains. “While cannabis smoke generates many of the same carcinogens as tobacco, studies to date have not shown a link between cannabis smoking and lung cancer risk.” The notice uses the example of cannabis smoking being linked to testicular cancer as well.

This article also describes the activities of cannabinoid receptors within the human body using animal models and cell lines that have been tested for cancer. “Cancer cell line experiments show that THC and CBD can mediate many anti-tumor effects, including inducing apoptosis and inhibiting cell proliferation, invasion, and angiogenesis,” the NOSI states. “These anti-tumor activities have led to early clinical testing of THC and CBD for glioblastoma and prostate cancers. While preclinical studies show differing effects of cannabinoids on cancer cells, deeper understanding is needed about how the tumor promoting and suppressive mechanisms of cannabinoid signaling influence cancer biological processes.”

Finally, the notice summarizes the current state of Food and Drug Administration-approved synthetic cannabinoids, dronabinol and nabilone, that are being used to treat chemotherapy. “Increasingly, cancer treatments involve targeted and immunological therapies, but little is known about whether and how cannabis and cannabinoids influence their efficacy.”

In closing, the NOSI invites researchers to submit their research on topics such as Cancer Risk, Cannabinoid Ligands, Receptors Cancer Biology, Cancer Treatment, and Symptom Management.

The NIH won’t consider any applications for studies that include clinical trials, “symptoms not related to cancer or cancer treatment,” or “projects that lack cancer models, specimens, or cells.” Instead the agency is looking for more specific methods of study in order for researchers to be considered. “Studies that integrate expertise from multiple disciplines, incorporate state-of-the-art, human-relevant models (e.g., organoid or patient-derived xenograft models) and utilize advanced technologies and methods are strongly encouraged.” Researchers can apply for a grant starting on June 5 and onward.

NCI issued a December 2021 paper that addresses the problems that hinder cannabis and cannabinoid drug research. “Conflicting federal and state cannabis regulations hinder research in several ways including the inability of researchers to access products that are legal in their state, a lack of standardization and quality control of cannabis and cannabis-derived products within and across states, and no national oversight of this standardization and quality control or the industry.”

While government agencies may have done limited research in the past on medical cannabis, there have been many studies that have explored cannabis use among patients with cancer. In August 2021, the Virginia Commonwealth University of Massey Cancer Center released a study that found cancer patients consume more cannabis than the general public. One-third of Canadian patients with cancer also used cannabis, according to a December 2020 study.