Fighting to remove political barriers that hinder cannabis research

Published Dec 12, 2019 10:00 a.m. ET
iStock / LARISA SHPINEVA

Now that it is common across much of the world for consumers to have safe access to legal weed, it might be hard to believe that clinical research is suffering due to remaining restrictions, but it’s true. Though consumers are celebrating their newfound ability to walk into a recreational dispensary without fearing arrest or criminal charges, the medical community is still fighting for the removal of old rules that are smothering the progress made in cannabis research.

The unfortunate situation at hand means far too many barriers between researchers, specialists, and the government. Despite Canada offering legal weed to consumers, they are much pickier about who can uncover the truth, and how they must obtain both product and funding to afford the challenge. Advocates are calling for a fresh look and change to any restrictions that might put them farther away from their objectives.

The problem

Unfortunately, there is so much more than one small issue with legislation, and much of it needs to be fixed for clinical researchers to make leaps and bounds forward with their work. One of the most influential is a rule that steals the inability of researchers to garner enough financial support just to begin, as the outlines of what can be financially supported by the federal government when it comes to cannabis, are exactly the same as those in place for alcohol and tobacco.

The problem with this is that it limits research patterns of misuse and some drug pathology, leaving many unexplored possibilities off the table. So, while technically anyone can go and get some weed to study, it is nearly impossible to get government funding to do so, which is when companies would normally turn to alternative solutions such as private companies.

Why companies are hesitant to fund cannabis research

There are a couple of reasons that a company or investor might hesitate before backing such a taboo subject matter, with the first being incredibly obvious. Cannabis still holds a conflicting reputation that many non-consumers remain against, and no one wants to look poor in the eyes of potential customers, but that is a politically influenced factor.

The biggest problem is that the Canadian federal government has cloaked the industry in a veil of secrecy by forbidding any kind of advertising, which includes holding fundraising events. These gatherings are often used by specialists and researchers to secure long term partnerships with companies, which are also banned. That’s right, scientific specialists and researchers are barred from forming business partnerships with companies, so their sole income must come from the government.

They need to rely on the very same government who refuses to finance research beyond a few nearly irrelevant statistics and topics, leaving time wasted, patients untreated, and consumers uneducated. If you follow the latest in cannabis news, then you have probably noticed a trend in the latest findings, and it’s that the majority of what we know is uncovered in the United States, which is a region that still considers cannabis consumption to be a criminal activity. That might ease your mind at first, but there is another unmentioned barrier to cannabis research in the US, and it lies with the producer of marijuana use in trials.

The University of Mississippi cultivates the only legal weed in the US

Most Canadian cannabis consumers avoid traveling to the United States, as the government prosecutes anyone who admits using by banning them, sometimes for life, from ever returning the country, but the truth is that America has a legally licensed and regulated facility to cultivate medical marijuana for clinical research. The University of Mississippi currently holds the only federally approved license to grow, and they supply much of the world with freshly cultivated cannabis to work with and experiment on.

Poor quality cannabis

While that all sounds great in theory, once you look at the quality of the marijuana that is shipped out to scientists from this producer, it's hard not to question the rationality behind it all. Most researchers want to look at what cannabis has to offer for the average consumer or patient, and right now, most of those people either obtain or buy their weed from a recreational dispensary. Though all dispensaries carry a different line of marijuana strains, the average THC content is typically around 18%.

That might not sound like a lot to the average consumer, but it’s a fair amount, and one that has slowly increased as breeders and specialists have perfected the art of selective breeding. It is enough to cause sensations of intoxication after only a few puffs, and it’s what most, both recreational and medical users are buying. Now, if you compare that number to the cannabis that is coming from the University of Mississippi, you will see a massive difference, as the average THC level of those products is closer to a 10%-12% average at most.

In some cases, researchers make do with what they have by processing the marijuana buds and plant materials into oil that condenses the cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, for easy administration, but should world-leading specialists have to settle for less when people’s lives depend on this kind of medical treatment? The answer might seem obvious, but until we push for change, this is how things will remain, which will only cause more people to suffer.

Contact your local government representatives, attend rallies, and when you can’t take part, do your best to help to spread the word. We had legalization last year, and we should be demanding up to date and thorough cannabis research just as swiftly.

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