Oxford University has announced a new £10m research programme into the medical use of marijuana.
Scientists will explore the potential benefits of cannabis compounds in an attempt to create new treatments for conditions including pain, cancer and inflammatory diseases.
Zameel Cader, associate professor in clinical neurosciences, told The Independent the medical use of marijuana was an “area of huge untapped potential”.
Calls for cannabis to be legalised for medical use have been growing in the UK, with some MPs urging the Government to change the plant’s status under current drug laws so it can be prescribed by doctors for conditions including chronic pain and anxiety.
But the Home Office has said there are no plans to make the “harmful drug” legal.
Dr Cader said the research would focus on an area of the brain known as the endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in mood, memory and the sensation of pain.
As its name suggests, this system is also receptive to chemicals found in the cannabis plant and is behind the “high” feeling experienced by those who use marijuana recreationally.
The endocannabinoid system is complex and “impacts on many aspects of brain function and the way that synapses operate”, said Dr Cader. “It’s also really important in the way the immune response is governed.”
“We know that’s particularly important for many neurological disorders,” he added. “It’s really an area of huge untapped potential.”