NOV 08, 2018 10:23 AM PST

Government Needs to Allow More Research on Marijuana

WRITTEN BY: Amy Loriaux

When science is restricted, pseudoscience is allowed to roam free. The same can be said of marijuana research. From academics, interested in our own endocannabinoid system, to pharmaceuticals, trying to gain access to an open market space, these institutions will always have their hands tied in the face of the current federal laws. Non-scientists or "alternative" clinicians, on the other hand, can take shelter in legalized states to make and sell products based on hype and unconfirmed claims of safety and efficacy. 

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A brief review. Marijuana is the number one used illicitly used substance in the United States. It is also the most politicized. The legal landscape for this plant is a constant evolving patchwork of state laws legalizing various aspects of use: from full recreational use to restricted medicinal applications. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still classifies marijuana as Schedule I, which is the most restrictive level to place a drug. Heroin and LSD are also Schedule 1. Interesting tidbit, the DEA actually scheduled a cannabis-derived medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as Schedule V but left marijuana as a plant at Schedule I. Given all of these circumstances, it is anyone's guess what it means for public health.

The legality of marijuana is not the main issue at stake. It is only a major contributing factor. The real problem is in the lack of credible preclinical and clinical research on the drug. This has long been a problem for basic scientists legitimately interested in studying the effects of marijuana on the body, however, there was little outcry outside of academia. That is, until now.

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These are pressing issues for public health. The state-by-state (and Canada, too) pattern in legalization has exposed novice users to pot for the first time. Companies are designing their products for your average pothead, but legalization has brought in customers curious about this drug that they used to say "no" to. This can lead to adverse consequences. These novice users are attracted to the hype these companies are putting out. However, there is still little evidence backing this hype. As Dr. Salomeh Keyhani of the University of California in San Francisco commented in a recent article in The Verge, “I think it’s very dangerous to be asserting that things are very beneficial without thinking about risks.”

What are the risks? Well, we do not really know. With the regulatory issues regarding marijuana research, including restricted funding, DEA oversight, and government-provided marijuana (infamous for its low quality and low external validity), science is lagging behind the burgeoning marijuana-market which is providing a wide variety of cannabinoid-infused "health" products to the public. This, as stated in The Verge, is a recipe for disaster., Annals of Internal Medicine,,,,, National Academic Press, National Public Radio

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I currently work at a small CRO involved in clinical trial management.
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