When UCLA started its cannabis research initiative five years ago, the university hailed the undertaking as one of the first academic programs in the world dedicated to studying the health effects of pot.
Legalization was quickly taking hold around the country, and the cannabis industry was attempting to transform the plant’s image from an illicit substance that gets you high to a health and wellness product.
The Times asked UCLA officials whether the university accepted donations from the industry to support the program. They said no.
However, documents obtained by the newspaper, eventually released by UCLA under the California Public Records Act, show that cannabis companies and investors provided at least some of the early financial support, writing checks for tens of thousands of dollars in donations and assisting with fundraising events.
The industry support underscores potential conflicts of interest as pot goes mainstream and researchers try to assess the health and other effects of cannabis. A marijuana investor and foundations with ties to the newly legal cannabis industry have donated millions of dollars to university research programs studying claims of the plant’s medical virtues, raising questions about how independent the scientific research can be.
Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and UC San Diego are among the schools that have accepted multimillion-dollar gifts in recent years....Private industry funding of biomedical research has become increasingly common over the decades, to the point where it is now the largest source of funding for research. Past studies have shown industry-funded research has a greater tendency to produce results favorable to the industry, according to Joanna Cohen, professor of disease prevention at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“The research is strong enough that we know the source of the funds is problematic,” Cohen said. “There’s no reason to think cannabis will be any different.”
In 2003, a study conducted at the Yale School of Medicine found that industry-funded studies were 3.6 times more likely to produce outcomes favorable to their sponsors.