University of Kentucky’s Cannabis Research Center Announces Inaugural Grants

The University of Kentucky Cannabis Center opened last year.

A newly launched center dedicated to cannabis research at the University of Kentucky announced its inaugural grant recipients on Wednesday.

The University of Kentucky Cannabis Center said that its “first set of faculty pilot grants to support innovative and collaborative cannabis research” had been awarded to four researchers at the university’s the College of Nursing, College of Public Health, College of Pharmacy and the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration.

The grants range in the amounts of $75,000-$100,000, and will subsidize research for 14 months.

“We are excited for this opportunity to expand and accelerate cannabis science at UK and conduct studies focused on the public health impacts of cannabis that can directly affect the lives of Kentuckians,” said Shanna Babalonis, the director of the UK Cannabis Center. “We have talented and dedicated researchers across a range of disciplines right here on campus who can contribute meaningful science to the center from multiple perspectives.”

The Cannabis Center was launched in September thanks to a bill that was passed by Kentucky legislators and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear last year. In the announcement at the time, Bablonis said that the “legislature is interested in having us explore the conditions for which medical cannabis might be useful, as well as the most effective dosing and route of administration for each condition.”

According to a press release on Wednesday from the university, the legislation granted $2 million for the center until June 2024.

“The primary objective of the research conducted at the UK Cannabis Center is to provide valuable insights to medical professionals, lawmakers, and the general public regarding the risks and benefits associated with cannabis and cannabinoids. This knowledge will be particularly crucial as Kentucky proceeds with the implementation of new medical marijuana legislation. The center’s research focuses on various aspects, including the health effects of cannabis and its potential for treating specific medical conditions,” the press release said.

The four grant recipients announced by the university on Wednesday are Kristin Ashford, an associate dean of Undergraduate Program and Policy, Good Samaritan Endowed Chair for Community Nursing, and director of the Perinatal Research and Wellness Center, who “will examine cannabis use during pregnancy”; Jay Christian, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, who “will explore cannabis use among Kentucky cancer patients and survivors”; Jayani Jayawardhana, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy, who will examine the impact of “Cannabis Laws on Opioid and Benzodiazepine Prescriptions and Associated Health Outcomes in Older Adults”; and Caroline Weber, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Martin School, who “will study the changes in cannabis use by examining traffic fatality records.”

Ashford’s study on cannabis use during pregnancy will examine “the perceptions of safety and acceptability for cannabis use among women who are currently pregnant as well as current use patterns and trends over the last five years in Central Kentucky among pregnant persons,” according to Wednesday’s press release.

“We want to know what pregnant women think, feel and do when it comes to using cannabis, in order to give our legislators, health care providers and expectant mothers a better understanding of how to improve the health of women and children in Kentucky,” said Ashford.

Christian’s study on cannabis use among cancer patients will be conducted through a survey that will help him “better understand the prevalence of cannabis use, which methods patients are using (smoking, vaping, eating), and how they are obtaining it.”

“Cannabis laws around the country, including in Kentucky, are changing rapidly. To determine the effect of legal medical cannabis, it’s important to know how people have been using it both before and after the law changes,” said Christian. “This study is a first step in helping us to assess the effects of Kentucky’s new medical cannabis law on cancer patients and survivors.”

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