Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research

Established in 2000, the UC Center for Medicinal Cannabis has been at the forefront of advancing science and policy relating to the potential clinical benefits and limitations of cannabis and cannabinoids as medicine. With support from the California State Legislature, the CMCR initiated the first therapeutic studies using smoked cannabis in over 20 years, completed key studies regarding the short-term benefits of cannabis for the treatment of neuropathic pain and spasticity, and has an active, ongoing program of research. Over the years the Center has established close and productive relationships with key Federal and State agencies, has significantly impacted policy, and remains a national leader in the field.

Center History

The CMCR was established pursuant to California Senate Bill 847 (Vasconcellos, 1999), passed by the California State Legislature and signed into law by then Governor Gray Davis. The legislation called for a program overseeing objective, high quality medical research that would "enhance understanding of the efficacy and adverse effects of marijuana as a pharmacological agent" (SB 847). This included conducting clinical and pre-clinical studies of cannabinoids, including smoked marijuana, to provide evidence whether marijuana has therapeutic value.

More recently, California Proposition 64 (Adult Use of Marijuana Act) provides the CMCR with $2,000,000 annually, which is utilized for the CMCR Grants Program to support cannabis-related studies that further enhance the understanding of the efficacy and adverse effects of cannabis and cannabinoids as pharmacological agents for the treatment of medical and psychiatric disorders, and their potential public health impacts.

Research Activities

Research Accomplished

Funding provided by the California State Legislature was utilized to address areas identified as holding promise for beneficial effects of cannabis, as outlined by the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine Report (1999) and the Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana, National Institutes of Health (1997), including neuropathic pain and spasticity. This emphasis was also informed via guidance from the CMCR Scientific Advisory Board (SRB), an independent committee of internationally-recognized subject matter experts. Following review by the SRB, the CMCR conducted the first clinical trials of smoked cannabis as a therapeutic agent in more than 20 years.

These CMCR-funded studies were conducted at five UC campuses (San Diego, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Davis), as well as in San Mateo, and examined the analgesic efficacy of cannabis on experimental models of neuropathic pain[1], neuropathic pain from HIV[2][3] and diabetes[4], and neuropathic pain of diverse etiology[5][6]. Additionally, CMCR studies have evaluated the efficacy of cannabis for the treatment of spasticity in multiple sclerosis[7]. These studies were all designed as short-term trials (e.g., acute administration, over the course of a few days). The findings from these studies were reviewed and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and showed a convergence of results, in that treatment with cannabis showed a significant improvement in the symptoms of interest, often in participants who did not achieve relief from traditional treatment.

Current Research Activities

Current CMCR studies examine the effects of cannabis on pain, as well as public safety issues surrounding the use of cannabis and cannabinoids. “A randomized, controlled trial of Dronabinol and vaporized cannabis in neuropathic low back pain” (Wilsey/Marcotte; funded by NIH) is examining whether eight weeks of at-home treatment (oral Dronabinol vs. vaporized cannabis) results in a significant analgesic response, as well as the effects that regular dosing may have on driving performance. “A randomized, controlled trial of cannabis in healthy volunteers: Evaluating simulating driving, field performance tests, and cannabinoid levels” (Marcotte/Wilsey) was authorized by State of California AB266 (Bonta) in order to determine the effect that cannabis use has on driving performance, and whether it is possible to develop improved methods (iPad-based cognitive tests, blood/breath/oral fluid) to detect cannabis-impaired drivers. “Effect of cannabis and endocannabinoids on HIV neuropathic pain” (Henry; funded by NIH) examines the acute effects of cannabis on pain and endocannabinoids, as well as the relationship between dispensary-obtained cannabis and pain changes, using a text-messaging tool.

Collaboration with Federal and State Entities

Coordination with Federal Agencies

Conducting cannabis studies entails extensive regulatory review that includes the FDA, DEA, and NIDA, as well as state (Research Advisory Panel of California; RAP-C) and local (Institutional Review Boards) entities. When the CMCR was established, the Federal approval process was fragmented, and the timeframe from receipt of funding to full regulatory approval was prohibitive (changes to the protocol requested by one agency then required re-review by the other agencies). In the initial funding period, the CMCR, in coordination with the regulatory agencies responsible for oversight of cannabis research, organized a meeting in Washington, DC, aimed at improving the coordination between these agencies. As a result, the regulatory approvals process was streamlined. The CMCR continues to have ongoing collaborations with officials at both the DEA and NIDA.

Coordination with State Agencies

CMCR has worked closely with California State legislators, regulatory agencies, and law enforcement regarding the development and implementation of research and policy pertaining to the use and impact of cannabis and cannabinoid products. Since the passage of California Proposition 64, CMCR leadership has met with representatives from the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the Medical Board of California, the California Highway Patrol, and the California Office on Traffic Safety, among others.

Igor Grant, MD

Marijuana as Medicine: Can We See Past the Smoke?
North American Cannabis Summit presentation January 2019 (PDF)

Igor Grant, MD

CMCR Symposium, June 2018

Daniele Piomelli, MD, PhD, PharmD

The health impact of cannabis
CMCR Symposium, June 2018

Ziva Cooper, PhD

Therapeutic potential of cannabis for pain alone and as an adjunct to opioids
CMCR Symposium, June 2018

Iain McGregor, PhD

Medicinal cannabis research down under: Introducing the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics
CMCR Symposium, June 2018

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