STEM Shoutout: Dr. Jacob Vigil

UNM professor founds research fund to conduct new and innovative cannabis research

University of New Mexico Psychology Associate Professor Jacob Vigil is leading the push for conducting new cannabis research at the university. In 2016, he founded the Medical Cannabis Research Fund (MCRF) to support innovative and multidisciplinary studies in marijuana.

“At the end of the day, we have so much data and so much going on that it’s an entirely different model of academia that thus far has been successful,” he said.

Currently, the MRCF is supporting several research studies including one published last year comparing the positive effects of the cannabinoids THC and CBD.

“Findings from these multi-disciplinary investigations are formulated to generate basic and clinical knowledge, educate patients, scientists, and physicians, and to help inform regulation on the therapeutic use of medical Cannabis,” according to their website.

Vigil said he created the MCRF in 2016 because he saw the community asking for this type of research to be done.

“I guess I decided to pursue this full time because I saw the obvious need out there in our community,” Vigil said. “And that nearly everybody seems to be experiencing some degree of secondary victimization of the conventional health care, specifically the types of pharmaceutical medications, that are usually pushed upon us.”

Vigil said he feels that the MCRF will assist local and remote communities in benefitting from the “pioneering, courageous…and certainly innovative work that various sincere researchers… have agreed to pursue.”

“I think that through the medical cannabis research fund…we’ve been gathering a group of researchers who really have a broad skill set,” said Dr. Sarah Stith, an associate with the fund and a UNM Economics assistant professor. “We can do pretty much any kind of study that needs to be done.”

Stith and Vigil have been married for about 3 years. Together, they have worked on several research projects that have been supported by the MCRF.

The MCRF is funded by donations from the private sector. Securing a federal grant to fund cannabis research is very difficult due to the continuing stigma of the drug in academia, Vigil said.

“The public sector has not a lot of money that they want to invest in actual medical innovations…and in this case, looking at the therapeutic effects of cannabis,” Vigil said. “This initiative was designed to tap into that private concern and ability to support the types of research that the federal government has largely restricted from financial sponsorship.”

Because they operate through funds from the private sector, Vigil believes that the MCRF is more cautious to how money is spent while conducting its research.

“The fact is, we could conduct a study with $1,000 that otherwise would be charging the government a million dollars for something very similar,” Vigil said.

Vigil said that his eventual goal for the fund is to grow it into an institute at UNM.