Marijuana Compounds to Be Studied by National Institutes of Health

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An image of the marijuana plant with the chemical formula for CBD.
Source: Ashley Perry, “Cannabis-Based CBD Becoming a Part of Everyday Life,”, Apr. 22, 2019

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded nine research grants totaling $3 million to study the “pain-relieving properties” in marijuana’s cannabinoids and terpenes, including CBD. The University of California at San Francisco and the University of Utah are two of the award recipients.

Cannabinoids are compounds unique to cannabis, such as THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Terpenes are the compounds in plants that determine how each smells, such as the citrus scent in an orange; in marijuana, they can affect the potency of cannabinoids. Over 110 different cannabinoids and 120 terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant.

Helene Langevin, MD, Director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH, which is part of the NIH), stated, “The treatment of chronic pain has relied heavily on opioids, despite their potential for addiction and overdose and the fact that they often don’t work well when used on a long-term basis. There’s an urgent need for more effective and safer options.”

The passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (also called the Farm Bill) legalized “hemp” nationwide. The legislation defined “hemp” as cannabis with no more than 0.3% THC. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, industrial hemp remains illegal in three states: Idaho, South Dakota, and Mississippi.

The 2018 Farm Bill allowed for the popularization of CBD products nationwide. Now stores such as CVS and Urban Outfitters are selling CBD products, along with gas stations, pet stores, and other retailers. State laws vary in terms of what products may contain CBD.

An Aug. 7, 2019 Gallup Poll found 14% of Americans have used CBD, primarily for pain, anxiety, and sleep. Despite the frequency of use, there is a dearth of research on exactly how CBD works, its effectiveness for pain relief, and whether the compound actually fulfills other industry claims such as fighting anxiety or easing schizophrenia symptoms.

That lack of knowledge can make CBD dangerous for people who do not treat the substance as a drug, and may self-medicate or fail to talk to their doctors about interactions with medications or other therapies.

Brent A. Bauer, MD, from the Mayo Clinic, stated, “CBD use also carries some risks. Though it’s often well-tolerated, CBD can cause side effects, such as dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, drowsiness and fatigue. CBD can also interact with other medications you’re taking, such as blood thinners. Another cause for concern is the unreliability of the purity and dosage of CBD in products. A recent study of 84 CBD products bought online showed that more than a quarter of the products contained less CBD than labeled. In addition, THC was found in 18 products.If you plan to use products containing CBD, talk to your doctor.”

Marijuana with higher levels of THC is still a Schedule I drug under federal law, though 11 states and DC have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use, and 33 states and DC have legalized medical marijuana.


Discussion Questions – Things to Think About
1. Should CBD be legal before its effects are known? Explain your answer.

2. Should CBD be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration? Why or why not?

3. Should marijuana be legalized nationally? Why or why not?


Gabriela Barkho, “First Government-Funded CBD Research Could Boost Industry’s Credibility,”, Sep. 24, 2019

Brent A. Bauer, “What Are the Benefits of CBD — and Is It Safe to Use?,”, Dec. 20, 2018

Megan Brenan, “14% of Americans Say They Use CBD Products,”, Aug. 7, 2019

Britt E. Erickson, “Cannabis Industry Gets Crafty with Terpenes,”, July 21, 2019

Michael Jacobs, “The Difference between Cannabinoids and Terpenes,”, Feb. 21, 2019

Danielle Kosecki, “Is CBD Legal?,”, Aug. 2, 2019

Danielle Kosecki, “What Is CBD and Why Is It So Popular Right Now?,”, Aug. 5, 2019

National Institutes of Health, “NIH to Investigate Minor Cannabinoids and Terpenes for Potential Pain-Relieving Properties,”, Sep. 19, 2019

National Conference of State Legislatures, “State Industrial Hemp Statutes,”, Aug. 2, 2019

UCLA Health, “Cannabis and Its Compounds,” (accessed Oct. 7, 2019)

Julie Weed, “CBD Companies Positioning Themselves for Cannabis Legalization,”, Aug. 24, 2019

Timothy Williams, “CBD Is Wildly Popular. Disputes over Its Legality Are a Growing Source of Tension,”, May 6, 2019