by Laura Geftman, LCSW
Google cannabis, CBD, THC, or anything related, and you maybe very confused by the information you find. There’s tons of conflicting information. Seems like every article and study is making opposing claims. You might think that scientific research would have a better handle on cannabis by now. The mess of information you find online instead leads you to believe cannabis research can’t keep up with all the conversations and speculation.
It maybe difficult to understand why there isn’t more definite information about cannabis since it’s been around for many, many years. There seems to be much more to rely on any other illegal drug. At this pivotal time in cannabis policy and research, scientific research is needed to help shift public sentiment and legislative debates. Why isn’t cannabis research more definitive?
Addressing Cannabis Research Gaps
European and American medical journals published 100+ articles about cannabis beneficial use between 1840 to 1900. Cannabis was included in the American pharmacopoeia (official book of medicinal drugs) until 1942. Israel, Germany, Canada, and the Netherlands currently permit cannabis use by prescription.(Source)
However in the United States, the use of cannabis was outlawed beginning with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. The US Congress passed the first federal law restricting access to cannabis. This obstructed medical use and research.
In 1970, The Controlled Substances Act deemed cannabis a Schedule I drug that has no medical value and high potential for abuse. Since that time, when conducting any research on cannabis, scientists need to obtain a DEA license, and get FDA approval. Then to obtain research-grade cannabis, researchers have to go through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
“Marijuana is a linchpin in the War on Drugs,” explained Brad Burge, the Director of Communications of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Research (MAPS). “There’s a lot of investment in marijuana remaining illegal….The United States government has gone to great lengths to prevent [medical] research on whole-plant marijuana.”
Over the years many researchers have found difficulty going through the process when attempting to study and/or prove cannabis is beneficial. However testing proving cannabis to be addictive and detrimental has not experienced the same difficulties.
The problems with cannabis clinical research don’t end with the difficulty getting a study approved. Obtaining cannabis for the study came with a whole other of issues. Since 1970, the DEA has regulated the cultivation of cannabis for research purposes. They issued one single- yes, that’s just one- license to the University of Mississippi. The university program operates a 12 acre cannabis farm funded by the NIDA. Cannabis is grown every few years based on demand. It’s worth noting that cannabis remains illegal ins the states that for many years has provided all cannabis and its derivative for clinical research.
Dr. Sue Sisley, a primary care physician in Scottsdale, Arizona, has been working for many years to conduct research on cannabis as a treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in military veterans. After struggling thru two years to get her research project off the ground, Dr. Sisley received cannabis from the University of Mississippi farm.
“It’s didn’t resemble cannabis. It didn’t smell like cannabis,” said Sisley. The specimen received reportedly looked like talcum powder, lacked potency, and had high levels of yeast and mold.
The NIDA has stated no previous concerns expressed by researchers prior to this. Therefore there’s no telling how contaminated samples had been prior to Dr. Sisley raising concerns about her’s. Since then the NIDA has implemented testing and posted Mold & Yeast Standards on their website.
All mold aside, both the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians have called for more research into the positive effects and therapeutic use of cannabis. This request continues to be largely ignored by the federal government.
Much of the testing to prove cannabis to be beneficial has been privately funded. The FDA still has never allowed double-blind, placebo-controlled studies in the United States. The DEA did, however, recently decided to allow more university centers to grow cannabis for performing studies. This provides some hope that the US government will curtail impeding that process of discovering the therapeutic potential of cannabis.
Emerging Clinical Trials & Data on Cannabis
Having good research is essential to know how we can best use cannabis, what are the safest ways, and biggest risks. Pennsylvania, in effort to lead the nation in medical cannabis research, developed a program to research cannabis in medical schools throughout the state. The program includes medical schools at University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, Drexel University, Thomas Jefferson University, Temple University, Penn State College of Medicine, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
It’s worth noting that it’s extremely difficult to conduct cannabis research at a public business or university. The DEA doesn’t permit possession of cannabis for research purposes within institutions receiving federal funding. However these school in Pennsylvania designed their program to bypass federal control. Each school planed to work in conjunction with state-licensed growers to produce the cannabis needed for research purposes.
However, local growers and dispensaries filed a lawsuit preventing the research program from moving forward. Their concern is the universities will undercut their businesses. A judge halted the program only to have Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe pushing it forward.
For now we have a mountain of anecdotal information based on actual patient experiences. That information indicates that cannabis is a highly effective medication for a wide range of disorders. We’re beginning to see the results of in-vitro, animal, and human studies throughout the world, and we’re about to embark on major breakthroughs in cannabis use. Cannabinoids offer great promise in protecting the brain, which could help treat neurodegenerative diseases such as senile dementia and Alzheimer’s. We’re already seeing the benefit of cannabinoids in treating a variety of types of cancer, autoimmune diseases, and seizure disorders, to name a few. THC and CBD are effective in relieving pain, inflammation, and spasm, allowing patients to wean off of opioids and benzodiazepines. (Source)
Since the states have begun to legalize cannabis, more than 15,000 modern peer-reviewed scientific articles on cannabis have been published. More than 2,000 articles are also now available about the endocannabinoid system. Additionally, more placebo-controlled trials have also been conducted on humans. More scientific information about cannabis will soon be available. (Source)
If you want to contribute to this effort, you can! Interested in participating in a cannabis research? Here are 10 Reasons You should Participate In A Cannabis Study
Cannabis Public Health Movement
The typical “extensive clinical research” we are all used to depending on doesn’t yet exist for cannabis. Anecdotal evidence has become significantly important not only to the scientific community but also consumers. The lack of cannabis research hasn’t stopped consumers. Recreational and experimental users are finding cannabis and hemp products and managing their ailments. Consumers are spending millions of dollars and experiementing with cannabis like they’re angsty teenager giving into peer pressure all over again. Only this time to it’s not about rebellion or escape but relief from pain and healing.
In the next decade, we’ll have more information and answers about cannabis and it’s many uses. In the meantime, those who choose to use cannabis products should pay attention to where their products are coming from and how their being tested. As cannabis is still federally illegal, products aren’t subject to U.S Federal Food and Drug (FDA) regulatory processes. Just like every other vitamin, supplement and/or food trend, many producers are jumping into the “Green Rush” to claim a chunk of the monies projected to be earned by the emerging cannabis industry. They aren’t, however, held to specific standards, practices, or testing for approval.
For more information about buy products, check out 6 Tips of Buying CBD Products
About Laura Geftman, LCSW
Laura Geftman, LCSW is the Founder of The Calm, Cool & Collected and a practicing therapist. Beyond all things cannabis and mental health, Laura is passionate about developing greater understanding for kindness and acceptance. In her free time, Laura can be found on her yoga mat, in a kayak or singing karaoke.
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