CIHR’s cannabis initiative: Meeting the urgent need for more knowledge

Dear colleagues,

Canada is on the verge of an historic transition – legalizing cannabis after almost 100 years of prohibition – and policy makers, employers, medical professionals and Canadians from all corners of the country are loudly calling for more information on the impacts of cannabis use.

For the past eight months, INMHA has been leading CIHR’s strategic efforts to develop cannabis research capacity in Canada. We are quickly securing partnerships and mobilizing resources to strengthen the evidence base on the potential benefits and harms of cannabis use, and this month I am pleased to provide you with an update on our progress.

Collaboration is essential for comprehensive impact

We still have much to learn about how cannabis may affect human health, and I believe the best way to build an effective foundation of knowledge is through broad collaboration. Therefore, we have developed a number of partnerships, both within and outside of government, to ensure that our work has the greatest impact possible, for the benefit of all Canadians.

At the core of our efforts is a strong partnership with Health Canada’s Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch and close collaborations with Statistics Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, and Indigenous Services Canada. We have been meeting frequently with these groups and are developing relationships with other organizations including health charities, provinces and territories, to discuss how we can work together to develop a comprehensive and integrated cannabis research strategy.

Additionally, I am incredibly pleased to report that we have established partnerships with the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), both of which have committed funds to directly support cannabis research funding opportunities with CIHR.

This research initiative is also currently supported by seven partner institutes, including the Institutes of: Cancer Research, Circulatory and Respiratory Health, Gender and Health, Human Development, Child and Youth Health, Indigenous Peoples’ Health, Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis and Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction. Institute collaboration is one of the hallmarks of CIHR’s model for supporting strategic health research priorities and cannabis research will benefit not only from the institutes’ collective strategic dollars, but also from their diverse expertise.

Rapid-response approaches to build research capacity

In the past five years, CIHR has invested nearly $20 million into cannabis research, including $1.4 million in early 2018 for 14 catalyst grants. These one-year, strategic projects quickly boost the collective knowledge base while facilitating connections and stimulating research projects that might not yet be competitive for open funding.

In fact, at least one of these recently-funded catalyst grants has already resulted in published research. Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater at the University of Victoria has published two studies that looked at how substance use patterns in youth unfolded over time, and how these patterns were influenced by other factors in adolescence and adulthood. You can find more information about these studies online.

CIHR is now preparing to launch a complementary funding opportunity this summer, with $3 million available to build cannabis research capacity and inform the development of future larger scale research projects in identified priority areas. You will be able to find more information about this opportunity in the coming weeks. We are very pleased to be partnering with both CCSA and MHCC on this opportunity, to leverage funds proposed in Budget 2018 for both organizations to assess the effects of cannabis use.

In addition to creating funding opportunities, CIHR and its federal partners recognize the importance of standardized measures and a common language to guide future cannabis research. This is why we are currently working on a strategy to develop consensus measures for cannabis-related research and surveillance and I look forward to sharing more details about that very soon.

Scalable opportunities and new partnerships on the horizon

Finally, we have been hard at work developing new strategies to continue this momentum through scalable, multi-year funding opportunities. I am particularly excited about the potential in this area, as our meetings thus far with health charities, provinces and territories, and other organizations have been overwhelmingly encouraging. I look forward to sharing more details on these partnerships and opportunities as we develop the details over the next several months.

As we continue to develop this initiative, I encourage you to visit CIHR’s new Research in Substance Use webpages. These pages have been developed as a one-stop shop for CIHR’s activities in the substance use research space, including funding opportunities and results, research profiles (e.g. Cannabis and Driving) and other information relating to Canadian research in substance use. They are being continually updated with new information, so check back often.

In closing, I am grateful for the hard work of the staff at CIHR, who are essential to moving this massive initiative forward. INMHA has received incredible support from staff in all three portfolios of CIHR, but in particular, the branches of Initiative Management and Institute Support, Policy and Government Affairs, Partnerships and Business Development and Program Design and Delivery have all gone above and beyond to support these efforts.

As always, I also thank you for your interest and welcome any comments or questions you have about the cannabis initiative, or any of INMHA’s activities. I invite you to reach out anytime by emailing us at​.

Samuel Weiss, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS
Scientific Director
CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction

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