Cannabis Illegality and the Repercussions of a Lack of Research

Our humble president recently made a comment regarding Cannabis that’s suddenly been butchered and overanalyzed to the point of stirring some major attention. What was said was that he would likely support a congressional effort to end the blanket federal ban on Cannabis. This would simply give states the right to decide their own Cannabis policy—effectively doing nothing to re-shape the Controlled Substances Act or Cannabis’ implications at the federal level.

His comment didn’t so much open a door, but continued cracking the window of a much needed conversation regarding the eventual embrace of Cannabis legality.

The greatest problem with this plant, and a society increasingly waking to its use, is that of the pharmaceutical industry. No, I’m not going to make the claim that “big pharma" is out to get us (mostly). Obviously there is room to be skeptical, highly skeptical. Yes of course, there are the Takeda scenarios of the world, a company that agreed to pay $2.4 billion in settlements in 2014 after it was discovered that their Actos medicine increased the risk of bladder cancer by 41% and that they hid this evidence. And there was of course Purdue Pharma, whose marketing tactics took OxyContin prescriptions from around 670,000 in 1997 to 6.2 million by 2002. By 2012, around 30% of the prescription pain relief market was dominated by OxyContin. Their implications go beyond an uptick.

And we’ll all remember Martin Shkreli along with the unnamed individuals in this industry who clearly demonstrate the truth behind the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

But let’s keep in mind we’ll never feel comfortable asking our neighbor, who read online about albuterol sulfate, sodium chloride, sulfuric acid and an aqueous solution for help breathing when we’re going into anaphylactic shock.

What I’m asking is: since we clearly need Cannabis to be studied at the level it deserves in order to realize its full medical potential—what will it cost? The pharmaceutical industry, as bitter as it tastes to say, has the economies of scale to rigorously study and expedite the research process. These companies can understand much more quickly exactly what’s going on at the endogenous level when the body consumes supplemental cannabinoids because they have the resources to do so.

As it stands now, when federal restrictions eventually change, much of the power and all of the capacity for gathering information would fall in the hands of this industry. Would these companies then continue conducting business as usual? Studying synthetic cannabinoids created in a lab because it’s cheaper? Would there be a standard put in place requiring studies be conducted using premium quality Cannabis flower?

How will an industry and a societal expectation centered around consistency and reliability deal with a product whose genetic makeup is evolving all the time? Synthetic construction works because its repeatable and dependable. Cannabis is unique because it truly can’t be grown yet at the consistency that’s required within and from the pharmaceutical industry. Not to mention there is no gene banking or standard in place to even try.

Then there’s the obvious next question.

Should the industry as a whole, which has led many down a path of manipulation and dependence and even addiction, and which has just been given sole power to study this plant and its benefits, even be trusted?

The same monetary resources that allowed the pharmaceutical industry to grow and develop crucial, life saving practices are the same resources that incentivize, manipulate, and corrupt-- leading to our increasingly hateful view of it. If a complete overhaul of our healthcare system, namely the Controlled Substances Act, is out of the question; what’s our course of action? If we’re steeped to operate within the confines of our current system, how do we ensure that we don’t make new mistakes in this burgeoning industry? Better yet, we need to ask ourselves how we should ensure we don’t make the same old mistakes in what was, until recently, maybe the oldest industry.

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