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Applying Cannabis Research to College Basketball

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

As a nerd who enjoys sports, I look forward each year to the close of the college basketball season. It is one of my favorite opportunities to talk to friends, colleagues and clients about cannabis research and the universities that conduct it. After reading this article, you may never be able to experience college basketball without thinking about growing weed for research, as I believe the schools affiliated with publishing cannabis research usually finish high in the March Madness tournament.

The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, also known as March Madness, is a US-based tournament each spring with 68 college basketball teams that compete for the national championship. It has become common practice for people to predict the outcome of each game, and ultimately the final match-up. Even non-sports fans join in the fantasy bracket, imaginary sports scenarios predicting winners and losers. Generally, these statistics and other factors are gleaned from excerpts and superstitions to weigh predictions of the Final Four. Ultimately, the tournament peaks when only four teams are left to battle it out.

In predicting and filling out a tournament bracket, experts and fans take into account many factors outside available data on player and team performance statistics. I propose an unprecedented way to fill out a bracket or make spur-of-the-moment choices: Pick the teams based on the university’s cannabis research. This is your chance to change the way you root for teams. My bet is if a school conducts more cannabis research, then I consider it a factor that it will be more likely to perform well and potentially win the Final Four.

Ultimately, my technique (see below) is a great way to learn about cannabis research and the universities that do it, while enjoying sports — even while watching the game.

Teams by Cannabis Research Publications

Here is a quick guide to base your picks on the quality of the university’s contributions to the cannabis research field. You could in theory pick or add any search term as a factor weighing your decision, such as “cannabinoid” or “psilocybin.” PubMed, or any other search engine for research databases on science and medical topics, can be used to identify research publications and the author affiliations. I tabulated the contributions of four research and basketball powerhouses, and annually performances vary.

Here are a few contenders to keep an eye on, according to my findings of the number of University-affiliated cannabis research publications from January 2020 to February 22, 2022 (at the time of writing this) on PudMed: Columbia University (127 cannabis publications ), Yale (117 publications), Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) (54 publications), University of Mississippi (20 publications), Harvard (137 publications) and University of Maryland (45 publications).

Sometimes it’s about quality, not just quantity of research. And of course, playing with search terms, like “marijuana” instead of “cannabis,” or even throwing in “endocannabinoid” can usher new perspectives about a region’s research focus.

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Looking at a historic legacy can provide some confidence in a University’s capabilities, whether looking at sports or science. You too can play along. Go to Pubmed and search for your schools of interest. Cannabis research is a good way to see which universities are excelling in certain places. You could even take it a step further and fine-tune your fantasy team by specifying your research parameters, such as “cannabis and pain.”

In my picks, the teams that lead in cannabis research are Columbia and Yale this season. The edge goes to Columbia University. Some of their recent work is both timely, impactful and well-designed (such as their studies on cannabis and opioids). The last few years of publishing constitute slightly more of Columbia’s total cannabis articles compared to Yale.

Summary and Future Directions

A fantasy college basketball league, with a system of points for cannabis-based research contributions, would undoubtedly have teams such as Yale and Columbia in the finals. The other two top picks would be schools that have been publishing cannabis research continuously for decades, having also made some of the most important discoveries in cannabis research. For example, the University of Mississippi has grown cannabis for federal research programs and discovered many new cannabinoids. VCU is where the endocannabinoid system was born; often attributed to Israel, it was actually researchers at VCU that discovered the receptors for THC. VCU was also the first university to study the anticonvulsant effects of cannabinoids.

While few universities have been studying cannabis for more than 10 years, most schools have significantly increased their publications in the field in recent years. This activity is creating a space for cannabis businesses to fill. For example, most schools do not have industry partners or programs for cannabis education, which is an opportunity for businesses that are looking for university partners. This is important because university partnerships might be key for a cannabis company looking to establish legitimacy in the field, develop training programs, contribute to public health and various types of research or generate intellectual property.

VCU has a rich historic legacy with many great researchers. It is where researchers discovered cannabinoid receptors and hosted some of the first cannabinoid research symposiums in the country. They have been rewarded with substantial grant funding for many different projects. The late Billy Martin was a VCU professor accredited with “changing the landscape of drug abuse research in this country” with his lab’s work on cannabinoids.

As colleges and universities ramp up cannabis-based research, not only should we be very impressed, but also eager to engage, partner and support their efforts. And when it comes to college basketball fantasy tournaments, I say bet on cannabis.

I hope this cannabis-inspired Fantasy Four team inspires your basketball fandom and/or your interest in cannabis investigation. Someday at a college arena, I hope to hear someone say, “Sure, they have a good starting forward, but have you seen their comprehensive review of cannabis potency?”

“Go Owls!” — Jahan Marcu, Ph.D., Temple University (20 research publications)

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