An alumnus of Harvard and MIT has made a donation to promote cannabis research at both schools.
In an announcement Tuesday, Charles R. Broderick said he is donating $9 million—split evenly between the two institutions—in support of research into how marijuana affects the brain and behavior.
It is, according to the schools, “the largest donation to date to support independent research of the science of cannabinoids.”
Broderick said the gift was driven by a desire “to fill the research void that currently exists in the science of cannabis.”
“I want to destigmatize the conversation around cannabis—and, in part, that means providing facts to the medical community, as well as the general public,” Broderick said in the announcement.
The founder of Uji Capital, which describes itself as “a family office focused on quantitative opportunities in global equity capital markets,” Broderick has distinguished himself as a vanguard investor in the cannabis industry. He got into the Canadian cannabis market early, taking equity positions in Tweed and Aphria. Broderick, who goes by “Bob,” also made a separate investment in Tokyo Smoke, a cannabis company that merged with DOJA in 2017 to create Hiku, which in turn was acquired by Canopy Growth Corp. a year later.
Although marijuana is now legal in Canada and in a growing number of states and cities in the United States—including in Massachusetts, home to both Harvard and MIT, where voters legalized recreational pot in 2016—there remains a dearth of credible research, preventing it from fully shedding its stigma. Research efforts have been hamstrung by the U.S. federal government’s ongoing hostility toward cannabis, which it still regards as a dangerous drug offering no medical value.
A 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine urged public agencies, philanthropic organizations and private companies, among others, to “develop a comprehensive evidence base on the short- and long-term health effects of cannabis use (both beneficial and harmful effects)” through funding and support “for a national cannabis research agenda that addresses key gaps in the evidence base.”
Broderick’s gift was made in that spirit. He said in the announcement on Tuesday that it was important for all to be “working from the same information.”
“We need to replace rhetoric with search,” Broderick said.
The $4.5 million donation to MIT will provide support to four scientists over the course of three years, two of whom will “separately explore the relationship between cannabis and schizophrenia,” the school said. One of those researchers, John Gabrieli, will look into the value of cannabis for adults with schizophrenia, saying that the “ultimate goal is to improve brain health and wellbeing.”
Gabrieli told the Boston Globe that it’s been “incredibly hard” to get money for research into marijuana. “It’s been illegal all over the place until very recently,” Gabrieli told the Globe.
“Without the philanthropic boost, it could take many years to work through all these issues.”
At Harvard, the $4.5 million will be used to start the Charles R. Broderick Phytocannabinoid Research Initiative at the medical school, which “will fund basic, translational and clinical research across the [Harvard Medical School] community to generate fundamental insights about the effects of cannabinoids on brain function, various organ systems and overall health.”
Such research will be concentrated at Harvard’s Department of Neurobiology, led by Bruce Bean and Wade Regehr, both professors in the department.
“The research efforts enabled by Bob’s vision set the stage for unraveling some of the most confounding mysteries of cannabinoids and their effects on the brain and various organ systems,” Regehr said in a statement.
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