Harvard, MIT Receive $9 Million Gift For Cannabis Research

By Kelly Burch 05/03/19

The donation is the largest ever earmarked for marijuana research. 

Harvard scientist doing cannabis research

An investor who made millions investing in the medical cannabis market in Canada has donated $9 million to Harvard and MIT to conduct research on cannabis. The $9 million gift is the largest donation ever earmarked for marijuana research. 

“Our desire is to fill the research void that currently exists in the science of cannabis,” Charles R. Broderick, a Harvard alumnus, told the school

Broderick hopes that the gift, which will be divided evenly between the two universities, will empower researchers to commit to studying cannabis, despite federal regulations and limitations on marijuana research. 

"People take risks when they say, 'I'm going to start doing cannabis work,'" Broderick told WBUR. "For a young researcher at MIT or Harvard to say, 'I'm going to pivot my career and study the effects of cannabis,' I don't think that's something that would have happened five years ago.”

Broderick said that it’s important for everyone that more research be done on cannabis and its health effects. 

"And that's going to be good for all of us," he said. "A majority of Americans live in a regulatory environment that has either medical or recreational cannabis.”

Bruce Bean, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, said that the gift will allow researchers to learn more about THC and CBD, but also begin studying the hundred other cannabinoid compounds in marijuana. 

"Even for [THC and CBD], I have to say our knowledge is very, very sparse in terms of how they actually have their effects on the brain. But for many of the other hundred cannabinoids or so we know—we really know nothing,” Bean said. 

MIT professor and researcher Myriam Heiman studies the effect of cannabis on symptoms of schizophrenia. Her lab will receive $1 million of Broderick’s gift. "We were saying, 'Wouldn't it be great to study this?'" she said. "And then this gift comes along and really is enabling us to do everything we wanted to do.”

John Gabrieli, another MIT professor who studies marijuana, will use $1 million to help fund research into the effects of cannabis for people with schizophrenia and autism. He said that marijuana use is already widespread among people with mental illness, so it’s important that research catch up and help understand the health effects for this population. 

"That's why we need the science," he said. "Because right now, it's happening without the science, and it's likely to happen all the more as marijuana becomes highly available legally in many states.”

Broderick hopes that his donation will inspire other philanthropists to help fund cannabis research. 

"My thought is that this is the largest gift to support cannabis research, but it's not going to be the largest for long,” he said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.