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‘Largest Ever Cannabis Research Grant’ Will Fund Study Testing Whole-plant CBD Against Single-extract CBD

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: May 05, 2020   
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A $9 million donation will help fund studies that compare how full-spectrum cannabis products differ to those made from a single extracted compound.

The grant, reportedly the largest ever for cannabis research, was gifted to the Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) last year.

The researchers hope the study will help inform consumers and clinicians on the effectiveness of popular CBD products.

Looking for a CBD solution

Split evenly between MIT and the Harvard Medical School ($4.5 million each), the grant will fund the research of four awardees at Harvard alone.

One of these four is Staci Gruber, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who will lead the research project comparing whole-plant and single-extract CBD solutions.

“Everybody who is interested in using any cannabis-based product wants to understand potential differences between single extracted compounds and whole-plant, full-spectrum compounds,” Gruber said in a statement. “The grant money will help allow us to identify differences in these two different approaches, which are very common across the nation.”

Gruber will test products used for patients with anxiety. Whole-plant and isolated CBD products will be compared alongside placebos.

“A single extracted, purified form of cannabidiol – a primary, nonintoxicating constituent of the plant – might be different from a full-spectrum product that contains high levels of cannabidiol and also has other cannabinoids and other compounds,” Gruber explained.

“Our research could clarify the potential for synergistic effects that many believe occur when using full-spectrum products versus single extracted compounds.”

As the cannabis plant contains over 480 unique compounds, researchers have speculated that some of the drug’s effects could be mediated by multiple chemicals, and not just the famed CBD and THC compounds. Known as the entourage effect, the theory has been put into doubt by some recent studies. But the conclusions from Gruber’s research could be the most authoritative yet on the idea.

“Increasing numbers of people in the world are exploring the use of cannabis and cannabinoid-based medications or products for many different reasons, but at the moment, we don't have a ton of data about the impact of individual cannabinoids compared to cannabinoids in the presence of other compounds,” she stated.

“This is important for identifying which approach yields increased efficacy and has implications for harm reduction. We don't want to expose individuals to compounds they don't need to be exposed to if we can get the same 'bang for the buck' with a single compound.”

The grant funding Gruber’s research was donated by Charles R. Broderick, an alumnus of MIT and Harvard University, to the two universities in May 2019. An early investor in the Canadian medical marijuana market, Broderick hoped that studies like Gruber’s will help develop an evidence base on both the beneficial and harmful effects of cannabis use.

“I want to destigmatize the conversation around cannabis,” he said in a statement last May. “And, in part, that means providing facts to the medical community, as well as the general public… We need to replace rhetoric with research.”


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