Cannabis research is everywhere! If you ever hear any politician, government bureaucrat, medical professional or anti cannabis advocate say the phrase ” We need to do more research.” It’s time to respond with the phrase “The research has been completed already!” Ask Israel, Canada, Holland, Mexico, Colorado, California, Nevada, Oregon, etc.
The ground-breaking cannabis industry gained over $1 billion in funding last year with growing pains to match, featuring not just hefty political concerns but numerous medical ones, from its long-term psychological impacts to seemingly immediate, physical ones. Thanks to an ad-hoc team of experts, though, we’re now closer than ever to knowing what we don’t know about Mary Jane and–with any luck–to sparking a reefer-research revolution.https://youtu.be/zu0-3yqImx4
Yesterday, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine pre-released a 440-page report summarizing the implications of some 10,000 cannabis-related studies or, pending further study and funding, the lack thereof. Entitled The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research, the wide-ranging review represents insights (and many long hours) from 16 leading neurologists, epidemiologists, oncologists, and child psychiatrists in a range of institutions, all of whom recognized the need for greater understanding of a drug humans have likely been using for millennia.
These conclusions run contrary to a recent federal ruling that kept cannabis in the U.S.’ Schedule I drug category as defined by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, its highest level of restriction. The drug group, which also contains the likes of heroin, LSD, and GHB (sometimes known as a ‘date-rape drug’), bears the legal qualifications of a high potential for abuse, a lack of accepted safety for supervised medical use, and no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
According to the researchers, cannabis’ inclusion in this group isn’t just inaccurate, but a serious impediment to further research on a fast-growing industry that’s coming on strong across the country. The report observed that researchers seeking to obtain cannabis or cannabinoids for study, including in a therapeutic context, must obtain “a number of approvals from a range of federal, state, or local agencies, institutions, or organizations,” a process that can easily be a “daunting experience” for scientists. It continues,
The substantial layers of bureaucracy that emerge from cannabis’s Schedule I categorization is reported to have discouraged a number of cannabis researchers from applying for grant funding or pursing additional research efforts … Given the many gaps in the research of the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids, there is need to address these regulatory barriers so that researchers will be better able to address key public health questions about the therapeutic and adverse effects of cannabis and cannabinoid use.
As The Guardian points out, finally getting their hands on cannabis doesn’t mark the end of researchers’ problems. Nolan Kane, a geneticist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told the publication that government-grade cannabis is often described as “old” and “low quality,” and can contain “a fraction” of the psychoactive content in privately grown stuff.
And then there’s the problem of recruiting clinical subjects to use it. “Getting people to even accept money to smoke their cannabis – you’d think college campuses, it would be easy to get people to smoke marijuana,” Kane said. “It doesn’t at all reflect the marketplace … It’s always going to be comparing apples and oranges until they’re able to make the products more similar.”
Regarding further medical applications for the plant, in which 104 different, potentially affecting cannabinoids have already been identified (not to mention terpenoids, flavonoids, nitrogenous compounds, and more common plant molecules), the research team discovered “inadequate information” on all counts.
The report also compiled a list of previous systematic reviews of cannabis research by topic area, illustrating some current gaps in the literature. The committee did not identify any good- or fair-quality reviews covering cannabis’ effects on employment and income, later outcomes, immunity, or cardiometabolic risk, for example; meanwhile, several reviews of extant research address lung-related illnesses, and several others are named which center on cognition.
Overall, the team found, “A lack of definitive evidence has resulted in insufficient information on the health implications of cannabis use, causing a significant public health concern for vulnerable populations such as adolescents, pregnant women, and others.” The report also noted that, unlike with tobacco, alcohol, and other common drugs, “no accepted standards exist to help guide individuals as they make choices regarding if, when, where, and how to use cannabis safely and, in regard to therapeutic uses, effectively.”
To address the dearth of knowledge about cannabis’ positive and ill effects, the expert group also recommended several regulatory and financial steps to encourage further study, including a striking roll-call of public and private institutions it thinks should be firmly on-board.
Among other things, the report calls for public agencies, private companies, philanthropic and professional organizations, and clinical and public health research groups at the state and federal level–including, but not limited to, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and the Association of Public Health Laboratories–to “provide funding and support for a national cannabis research agenda that addresses key gaps in the evidence base.”
Marie McCormick, the expert committee’s chair and a pediatrician at Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health, emphasized the import of such research to The Guardian.
“This growing acceptance, accessibility and use of cannabis and its derivatives has raised important public health concerns,” she said. “Moreover, the lack of any aggregated knowledge of cannabis-related health effects has led to uncertainty about what, if any, are the harms or benefits from its use.”
Given that the cannabis industry could soar to untold heights in the next several years, further research into the popular plant isn’t just a public-health interest and social responsibility.
It’s also good business.
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