The Conundrum of Cannabis Research


Since 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical Cannabis by way of Proposition 215, twenty-nine states and the District of Colombia have adopted laws for either medical or recreational consumption.

As more states move to adopt laws in some form, the pressure is on to accelerate research about Cannabis, both for its medicinal properties as well as a more thorough understanding of the plants biochemical processes as well as its genetic history.

We understand, at least to some extent, the benefits of certain cannabinoids for human consumption. There is also some information explaining the endocannabinoid system, a regulatory system present in every human being as well as all mammals (although this system that regulates immune, nervous, and possibly respiratory and cardiovascular processes isn’t even addressed in medical schools). So we know about some of the benefits of CBD’s for humans, but our information is extremely limited. And this specific lack of understanding is only scratching the surface. So why isn’t there more research being done?

This restriction has two facets: the Controlled Substances Act and a little known court case between Chevron and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Controlled Substances Act came about as a replacement to the Marihuana Tax Act when Dr. Timothy Leary successfully argued that the Tax Act was unconstitutional. So in 1970, the CSA was enacted; categorizing all drugs with addictive properties into one of 5 categories—balancing out of course their accepted medical value with potential for illegal sales. Schedule 1 represented those drugs with no accepted medical use and that would have the highest potential for abuse.

Cannabis actually ended up being placed into Schedule 1 purely out of a lack of research. Roger Egeberg, an official with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and the one responsible for its categorization, added the footnote that marijuana did not fit the criteria for Schedule 1 or even 2, but the recommendation would remain until current studies looking into psychological or physical dependence were completed. He must have figured they could change the status when the results were in.

But in 1984, a decision was reached by the Supreme Court stemming from the Chevron case that would render attempts at re-scheduling or de-scheduling impossible. The decision stated that if a law is clear, the governing agency must follow that law; but when a law is subject to interpretation, as in the case of Cannabis, it’s up to that agency, the DEA, to determine the criteria it will use to decide on regulations—shakes an Orwellian tambourine. So the DEA has decided that it will not accept Cannabis as having any medical use without extensive research, which of course is controlled by the federal government and cannot be conducted as Cannabis resides in the class of Schedule One.

The industry now sits in a position needing more than ever, extensive research, which can only come about with less prohibitive policies. And these prohibitive policies are only in place still because of a lack of research. It’s a precarious position for any movement to be in, but especially for Cannabis because it only has two options to come down off the ledge—and neither represent the potential for advancement that this plant does.

Patrick Riddle is the author of this blog as well as the co-founder of Third day co-op, a nonprofit that strives to get Cannabis medicine to those who need it most.


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