The program does not focus on the plant's psychoactive compound — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — that's responsible for marijuana's psychological effects. Cannabis plants contain more than a hundred other cannabinoids, including cannabidiol, or CBD, which isn't thought to get people high.
"Research into cannabinoids complements and leverages Singapore's strengths in biomedical research, and is a niche area that Singapore can compete globally in," a National Research Foundation spokesperson told CNBC.
Projects funded by the foundation will identify genes to create synthetic cannabinoids so researchers don't need to grow the cannabis plant. Possession or consumption of cannabis in Singapore can result in up to 10 years of imprisonment, a $15,000 fine or both. Citizens and permanent residents found to have consumed the substance even outside the city-state are still subject to the same penalties.
One venture is centered on developing synthetic CBD for prescription medicine and specialized treatments for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and a range of other illnesses. Led by Associate Professor Yew Wen Shan from the National University of Singapore, it may eventually expand to include other non-psychoactive compounds.