• Harvard and MIT’s medical schools have received $4.5m each to research cannabis
  • Bob Broderic, shareholder in Tweed Marijuana Inc. and Aphria Inc, made the donation
  • Broderic hopes the research will change negative perceptions on cannabis
  • Broderic’s $9m gift is largest single donation any US Universities have received to research cannabis

Two American universities, Harvard and MIT, have received an eye-watering amount of money to study medical cannabis.

Multi-millionaire Bob Broderic, alumni of both prestigious universities, donated $9 million to help support fundamental research into the effects of cannabis on the brain and behaviour.

The gifts of $4.5 million to each university represent the largest private single donation any US organisation has received to research the medicinal properties of cannabis.

The donations will afford neuroscience and biomedicine experts at the universities to research the biology of cannabinoids, their effects on the human brain, and help inform evidence-based clinical guidelines, societal policies, and regulation of cannabis. Whether governments will actually use the research to inform policy is another matter.

The need to challenge the negative stigma attached to cannabis partly fuelled Broderic’s motivation for the donations:

“I want to destigmatise the conversation around cannabis — and, in part, that means providing facts to the medical community, as well as the general public.

“Then we’re all working from the same information. We need to replace rhetoric with research.”

The donation to Harvard Medical School (HMS) will  establish the Charles R. Broderick Phytocannabinoid Research Initiative at HMS, which will fund basic, translational, and clinical research across the School community to help generate fundamental insights about the effects of cannabinoids.

Wade Regher, a professor of neurobiology at HMS, expressed his elation for the donation:

“I am excited by Bob’s commitment to cannabinoid science.

“The research efforts enabled by Bob’s vision set the stage for unraveling some of the most confounding mysteries of cannabinoids and their effects on the brain and various organ systems.”

Fellow neurobiologist, Bruce Bean, added:

“Even though cannabis products are now widely available, and some are used clinically, we still understand remarkably little about how they influence brain function and neuronal circuits in the brain.

“This gift will allow us to conduct critical research into the neurobiology of cannabinoids, which may ultimately inform new approaches for the treatment of pain, epilepsy, sleep and mood disorders, and more.”

“This gift will allow us to conduct critical research into the neurobiology of cannabinoids, which may ultimately inform new approaches for the treatment of pain, epilepsy, sleep and mood disorders, and more.”
Bruce Bean, professor of neurobiology, Harvard Medical School

MIT’s donation will be provided over the course of three years to help support independent research for four scientists at the McGovern and Picower Institutes.

Two of the researchers, John Gabrieli, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and Myriam Heiman, will separately explore the relationship between cannabis and schizophrenia.

Gabrieli commented:

“The ultimate goal is to improve brain health and well-being.

“We have to make informed decisions on the way to this goal, wherever the science leads us. We need more data.”

Heiman added:

“Our lab’s research may provide insight into why several emerging lines of evidence suggest that adolescent cannabis use can be associated with adverse outcomes not seen in adults.”

While Broderic’s donation is the largest single donation any American university has received, the award for most generous millionaire goes to Australian Barry Lambert, who donated nearly $40 million to the University of Sydney to establish the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics.

While Broderic was motivated to fund cannabis research to remove negative associations with cannabis (mainly due to him owning shares in two of America’s largest cannabis companies), Lambert established the Lambert Initiative to help children like his granddaughter who suffers drug-resistant epilepsy.

We need more philanthropists like Lambert and Broderic to expand the amount and quality of research conducted on medical cannabis.

With each new study on cannabis finding more and more evidence for the efficacy of cannabis as a medicine, it becomes harder and harder for pro-prohibition governments to reject calls to legalise cannabis.

Cannabis was legalised for medicinal use in the UK in November 2018, but patients are still finding it impossible to get prescriptions. For many, the only way to get legal medical cannabis, with THC, is to opt for a private prescription, which can cost upwards of £30,000 a year.

For the majority of British patients, this is not a viable option.

Medical cannabis should be available in all forms on the NHS. If patients can be prescribed dangerous opioids on the NHS, then there is no good reason to deny them a safer, more effective option.

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