Canopy Growth, Curaleaf, Tilray, and Cronos—all announced research partnerships with universities across the world. And such relationships can be delicate.
Millions of dollars pour into cannabis research each year at universities across the world. And that funding is increasingly coming from the cannabis industry itself, potentially raising conflict-of-interest questions.
Industry giants such as Canopy Growth, Curaleaf, Tilray, Cronos, and Charlotte’s Web have funded, or otherwise partnered on, university research on a wide range of cannabis-related issues. For example:
* Canopy Growth donated $2.5 million (Canadian dollars) in 2018 to the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use to establish the Canopy Growth Professorship in Cannabis Science for research on the use of cannabis in addressing opioid use disorder; they also launched the Canopy Growth Cannabis Science Endowment Fund. (UBC also partnered with another Canadian cannabis company in 2016, Tilray, for a clinical trial on cannabis and PTSD.)
* Curaleaf announced in May 2019 that it will be funding industrial hemp research at the University of Connecticut.
* In March 2020, Charlotte’s Web announced that its R&D division, CW Labs, would be “headquartered … in the Hauptmann Woodward Research Institute on the campus of the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and The Center for Integrated Global Biomedical Sciences.”
* Cronos, meanwhile, entered into a partnership in 2018 with the Technion Research and Development Foundation, a subsidiary of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, to study the use of cannabis in skin disorders.
Companies funding research on the industries they operate in is nothing new, Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at Stanford University, told Cannabis Wire. The tobacco, pharmaceutical, gambling, and alcohol industries all fund research related to their industries, he said. The difference, Humphreys said, is that “people haven’t yet, for cultural reasons, thought through that the cannabis industry is going to behave like any other industry in having economic interests of its own.”
“I think there’s a lot of people who would think taking money from the tobacco industry is unthinkable or the pharmaceutical industry is unthinkable but the cannabis industry is different—the cannabis industry is just hippies and tie-dyes; they are not corporate types,” Humphreys added. “But in truth they are an industry like any other, and they are going to be more inclined to fund projects that they think will be done by people who will be more favorable to them.”
Another university that recently started a cannabis research venture with the backing of cannabis companies is Harvard. The university launched the International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute in May 2019, in partnership with Atlas Growers, a Canadian medical cannabis company; Cannabis Science Inc., a California-based biotechnology company; and Flavocure Biotech, a Maryland-based biotechnology company. The institute has raised roughly $10 million in funding for its research so far.
The institute has “rigorous standards” to make sure there is no conflict of interest, according to Wilfred Ngwa, director of Harvard Global Health Catalyst, which houses the institute. For example, Ngwa told Cannabis Wire, the researchers can have no personal financial connections, such as shares, with the company that is funding the research.
Published: May 14, 2020