The University of Mississippi has long been a federally approved cannabis cultivator, providing cannabis and cannabinoids to researchers whose projects are greenlit by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Now, armed with that experience and inspired by Mississippi’s recent efforts to legalize medical cannabis, the university’s School of Pharmacy is launching the National Center for Cannabis Research and Education (NCCRE), which will conduct scientific research, data analysis, education and training on the health effects of cannabis.

“In the past, we were fairly restricted because it was a federal program, very restricted to doing what they contracted with us to do,” Larry Walker, Ph.D., the center’s interim director, told Cannabis Business Times. “Over the years, we’ve generated a number of other research projects and we felt like it was maybe time to begin something separate from our NIDA-funded project that could do some research and education that might benefit the state.”

As state-level cannabis programs continue to gain momentum across the country, Walker and his team felt that other states could also benefit from the cannabis research the university would conduct and use it to help build their regulatory structures.

“Our interest would be from the scientific and health perspective, just to give them whatever information they might need to make a decision when they’re setting policy,” Walker said. “Many times, … different state programs are having to do it with relatively little background knowledge on the science side. … So, we just want to be able to provide them seminars, white papers, things that might help them in this.”

The NCCRE is currently looking to secure the funding and new hires necessary to launch its first studies. Initial research will look at how to deliver THC and other cannabinoids through different formulations, as well as how different products can target specific medical conditions.

“I’m hopeful that we’re going to be able to put together some selected clinical research studies, where we can actually do this in volunteers or in patients,” Walker said. “The idea there would be, if you’re trying to treat a certain disorder, what kind of drug levels do you need to deliver [and] for how long?”

Specifically, the research will target what the outcomes are for certain diseases that are treated with cannabis-based medicine, looking at the benefits cannabis treatment can have on certain conditions, as well as any adverse effects that patients experience.

“We just want to be able to provide good science, education and training for people getting involved in the program, whether it be physicians, pharmacists, dispensary personnel or health department personnel,” Walker said. “[We want to provide] a better understanding about the chemistry [and] the pharmacology of cannabinoids.”

While the School of Pharmacy has board members who are interested in cannabis research and able to conduct some of the studies, Walker said the NCCRE is looking to hire additional personnel.

“We’re going to be looking for recruiting some leadership and at least having funding to be able to buy the time of the people at the university that are capable of doing this type of work,” he said.

Since the center is in the very beginning stages, Walker said the ultimate direction of the research will depend on many factors, including how much funding the center secures and whether the university decides to partner with cannabis companies on some of the research.

“I think there are a lot of companies that would like to work in some of these research areas, and we’re talking with some of them,” Walker said. “We’re really interested in just having good, science-based products studied and then available in the state programs.”