New UM Center advances medical cannabis science, education

Published 12:39 pm Thursday, January 20, 2022

The University of Mississippi is home to a new center that will prioritize resources toward patient and public safety on the medicinal use of cannabis.

The National Center for Cannabis Research and Education will foster and conduct scientific research, data analysis, education and training on the health effects of cannabis. NCCRE researchers and leaders will aid in policymaking and outreach as state programs emerge.

Based within the School of Pharmacy, the new center’s foundation will build on the school’s long-standing history of cannabis research.

“There is no doubt that cannabis can provide treatments for serious diseases, and there is a solid research foundation for further exploration” said Larry Walker, interim director of the NCCRE, who served 16 years as director of the National Center for Natural Products Research. “The potency of the plant, the sophistication of preparation and delivery, the ready availability of these products and the declining perceptions of risks mean that many seeking its health benefits could experience various adverse effects.

“The goal of the NCCRE is that health professionals and patients have the products and information that will allow them to tap the hope for new treatments from cannabis, while understanding and minimizing harmful effects.”

The center was approved Thursday (Jan. 20) by the board of trustees of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.

The center’s initiatives emphasize research, advising and education in medical cannabis as well as cannabis-related drug development. Along with working toward the creation of new drugs and formulations, the NCCRE will perform data collection and analysis while engaging in training and education with medical professionals, industry and government officials.

“The creation of this outstanding center draws and builds upon the University of Mississippi’s internationally renowned research expertise in cannabis,” said Glenn Boyce, UM chancellor. “With our decades-long scientific leadership in this field, we’re equipped to be a leading resource in this area, and we’re ready to play an invaluable role in ensuring the future of cannabis is safe, productive and effective.”

For more than 50 years, the School of Pharmacy and NCNPR has provided standardized cannabis products for research through the federal government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse Drug Supply Program. Products available include bulk plant material, cigarettes, cannabis extracts and purified cannabinoids.

UM researchers have vast experience in the isolation, identification and synthesis of cannabinoids. Of the 50 new cannabinoids discovered between 2005 and 2015, 43 can be attributed to Ole Miss researchers.

This work has resulted in numerous books and articles published in scientific journals covering topics such as botany and plant biotechnology, isolation of characterization and product development, among others.

Under the NIDA contract, the university also conducts analyses to monitor the potency of illicit cannabis products that have been seized and submitted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and other police agencies. This statistical information is useful to numerous federal agencies in assessing illicit distribution patterns and the potential health impacts of marijuana use.

These decades of experience in both cannabis research and health education have the NCCRE uniquely positioned to advance the science of medical cannabis. It will build on the school’s expertise in cannabis, medication outcomes, drug regulatory science and policy, as well as pharmacy and interprofessional education.

The NCCRE joins the pharmacy school’s four established centers in the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences: NCNPR, Pii Center for Pharmaceutical Technology, Center for Pharmaceutical Marketing and Management, and Center for Clinical and Translational Science. The addition will allow each of the centers to use its strengths, history and capabilities to conduct medical cannabis research and outreach that will benefit Mississippi and the nation.

For more information on the center and its work, email NCCRE@olemiss.edu.