Ziva Cooper, research director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, has been awarded a $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a five-year study assessing the pain-relieving effects of cannabis and cannabinoids, the chemicals in the cannabis plant.

The grant will fund the first clinical study for the Cannabis Research Initiative, which was founded in 2017 as part of the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Cooper joined the initiative as its first research director in January.

“This is an ideal first project as it probes significant public health questions related to the potential medicinal and adverse effects of cannabis and cannabinoids, a central mission of the Initiative,” said Cooper, professor-in-residence of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The project also will examine the addictive properties of cannabis, and assess whether men and women experience the effects of the drug differently.

“Evidence from animal studies show that females are more sensitive to the pain-relieving benefits of THC, the primary component of cannabis. But they are also more sensitive to the negative effects,” Cooper said.

At a time when rates of medicinal cannabis use are rapidly increasing among women, the study's findings will help researchers better understand how men and women respond differently to both the potential therapeutic and negative effects of cannabis, Cooper said. The study will also explore whether hormones and endocannabinoids, the body’s own cannabinoid system, play a role in these differences.