Dr. Jeff ChenIt’s no question Dr. Jeff Chen sees the potential in cannabis.

He founded the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, one of the first programs of its kind. As executive director, he grew the program to include more than 40 faculty across 18 UCLA departments working on cannabis- and hemp-related research, education and policy projects. 

Chen is also the cofounder and CEO of Radicle Science, a health tech company leveraging big data and digital health to democratize clinical trials for CBD and cannabis brands to enable them to become validated for the first time.  

Chen will present “Formulating Cannabis-Infused F&B Products For The Medical And Functional Foods Market” during Cannabis Products Exchange, slated to be presented virtually April 27-28. This interactive two-day conference is designed to inform and inspire the ideation, innovation, research and development, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, and consumer safety of legal cannabis edibles and beverages.

Chen recently spoke to Cannabis Products about his introduction to medical cannabis, research at federal institutions and how much there is still to understand about cannabis.

CP: How did you first get involved with the medical cannabis market?

JC: While I was a graduate student in the MD/MBA program at UCLA, I became fascinated with cannabis and hemp because they were being produced and used as health products completely outside of FDA, pharma, universities, healthcare systems, etc. It was a decentralized, crowdsourced approach to creating and understanding these products, which held immense therapeutic potential. 

CP: How did that lead you to found the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative?

JC: The problem was we didn’t have rigorous human clinical trials to confirm all the amazing things we were seeing from animal studies done in a lab or human testimonials in the real world. Few universities around the world were researching this because of the stigma, the lack of funding, and the research restrictions. 

Cannabis, to this day, is arguably the most difficult product to conduct a U.S. clinical trial on. So, I wanted to accelerate the research, and I had the best shot of doing so at my home institution where I had just earned my MD/MBA. Furthermore, I knew if I could get a respected and visible university like UCLA to start a cannabis research program, then others would take notice and follow suit — and it worked! There's now cannabis research programs popping up at prestigious institutions all over the U.S. 

CP: What is the current state of medical cannabis research in the U.S.?

JC: There's tremendous potential for cannabinoids to benefit everything from pain and sleep disorders, to cancer and inflammatory conditions, to a range of mental and behavioral health issues. Unfortunately, nothing has really changed in half a century at the federal level. 

Research proceeds at a snail's pace. Cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level. This restricts funding to and the speed of cannabis research. Universities receive federal funding and would never jeopardize that, so they stick with federal law even if their state law has changed to allow cannabis. And federal law only permits you to study cannabis grown by the federal government in Mississippi. This cannabis does not resemble anything used by Americans, so universities effectively cannot run clinical trials on any of the thousands of commercially available cannabis or hemp products used by 20 percent of Americans. 

CP: Have you found there are any insights the adult-use market can take from the medical market? Or vice versa?

JC: This is not a story about THC. Or CBD. For both medical and recreational applications, this is a story about the cast of characters found in cannabis and hemp and how to put them in the appropriate form factor, at the right range of dose, for a given intended effect. And science barely understands THC and CBD, much less the 100-plus other cannabinoids in cannabis and hemp and the hundreds of different terpenes this plant can express. 

Leave all your assumptions at the door. We may be way beyond the first inning in terms of the production, marketing and distribution of cannabis and hemp products, but I think we are still in the first inning in terms of true understanding of the science behind all this.

Backed by Cannabis Products Magazine, along with Prepared Foods, Food Engineering and Food Safety Magazine, CPX21 also will lay the groundwork for merging the federally regulated food and beverage industry with the fragmented legal cannabis edibles and beverages industry.

For more information or to register, preparedfoods.com/CPX.

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