NIH spends $14 million to study reproductive effects of marijuana on macaques

Lab violated federal spending disclosure law requirements, alleges watchdog group.

Updated: March 12, 2022 - 10:35pm

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The Golden Horseshoe is a weekly designation from Just The News intended to highlight egregious examples of wasteful taxpayer spending by the government. The award is named for the horseshoe-shaped toilet seats for military airplanes that cost the Pentagon a whopping $640 each back in the 1980s.

This week's Golden Horseshoe is awarded to the National Institutes of Health for a $14 million experiment last year on monkeys that included feeding them marijuana edibles and then monitoring the effects, according to the watchdog group Open The Books.

The primate marijuana experiment had two parts, according to an investigation by the White Coat Waste Project (WCWP).

In the first part, female macaques were served THC edibles daily for up to four months. They were then observed to see if any changes occurred in their menstrual cycles. 

In part two, male macaques were fed the edibles for up to seven months and then observed to see if any fertility changes occurred.

NIH awarded the two grants for the experiments. A $13.1 million grant was awarded to the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), and $1.1 million was awarded to the University of Missouri-Columbia.

"The White Coat Waste Project was only able to find the enormous price tag of this project by filing a complaint with the NIH," wrote Open The Books CEO and founder Andrew Andrzejewski. "Federal law known as the Stevens Amendment requires labs to say what percent of the costs of the experiment come from taxpayer money, the dollar amount of taxpayer funds used, and the percent and amount of funding by non-governmental sources. The Oregon Health and Science University disclosed none of these figures in its reports announcing the research results."

Andrzejewski also pointed out that since recreational marijuana is legal in Oregon, experiments could have been conducted on humans.

"Hiding the taxpayer cost of federal research projects is unacceptable," Adrzejewski told Just The News. "Transparency is the law and the best disinfectant. It should not take a formal complaint filed with NIH to force open the payments.

"Drugging monkeys daily for up to seven months certainly seems like animal abuse, and a complete waste of hard-earned taxpayer money." 

Last year, OHSU reported its results on the female monkeys, finding chronic marijuana use can affect conception and alter the female reproductive system. In January, the institution released its report on male macaques. THC, the study found, adversely impacted the monkeys' reproductive hormones and led to decreased testosterone levels and severe testicular shrinkage. 

In an abstract published on the NIH website, the researchers concluded that "further studies are needed to determine if reversal of these observed adverse effects would occur if THC was discontinued and for validation of the findings in a human cohort."

In a letter to Deborah Kearse, director of NIH's Division of Program Integrity, WCWP has demanded an investigation into the alleged Stevens Amendment violation by OHSU.

NIH has not responded to a request for comment.

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