The research into cannabis, its makeup, and its effects needs to happen isn’t happening. As long as the U.S. Federal government lists it as an illegal substance, you won’t see the research into its nature, its effects, or medical efficacy. Ironically, even research into what Feds consider its dangers won’t be happening any time soon.
What’s the problem?
The problem is multi-layered. If it is illegal, it is not available in enough quantity to serve the experiments. Only the University of Mississippi has permission to cultivate a crop of cannabis making it difficult to access an adequate supply of different strains for experimentation.
Scientists interested in such research must seek approvals from multiple federal and state departments and agencies. Authorities treat the product as illegal and requiring regulation throughout its processing. And, if the testing will involve human subjects, it takes more forms and more process.
The lengthy studies, the follow through, and follow up are expensive. The best practice in research runs double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial trials. For most research, you’ll find a fat feeding line willing to pump funds into cannabis research. However, the illegal status dries up the money supply at both ends of the feeding tube.
The lack of research, unfortunately, forestalls future research. That is, research will not advance if research doesn’t happen. Without abundant research, the track record and metrologies cannot build on each other. With research at a minimum, the research community has limited intellectual resources.
Finally, the cannabis intellectual community has only been forming over the past decade. Members are still working toward removing barriers, identifying and prioritizing the research agenda, and determining metrics to add value to the work.
The top 5 things research should target:
1. Minor cannabinoids and terpenes: The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) leads the Federal Government’s scientific research on unconventional medical and health care systems, practices, and products. They have freed $1.5 million to sponsor research into the pain-killing benefits of minor cannabinoids and terpenes in isolation or combination.
Grant recipients will target α-humulene, α-phellandrene, α-pinene, α-terpineol, β-caryophyllene, β-pinene, cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), cannabichromene (CBC), myrcene, Limonene, Linalool, and γ-terpinene. The idea is to discover the mechanisms by which these elements affect pain and possibly replace the need and use for opioids.
This means exploring the correlation of identified analgesic properties with age, ethnicity, and gender. It must study the impact of dosing and method of administration for potential benefits. And, to examine if and how the cannabinoids and terpenes bind to pain pathways and to each other. $1.5 million isn’t enough to accomplish all this, but it is a start.
2. Medical and Neurobiological effects: In May 2019, Philanthropist Charles R. Broderick, who has made millions investing in Canada’s marijuana markets, dropped $9 million into opening research on cannabis at Harvard and MIT. Researchers at these premier institutions have plans to study cannabis and its role in everything from neurobiology to psychiatry. There is a call for the research plans to consider its work in terms of the social context that finds legal enforcement and decriminalization disproportionately affecting minority communities.
Harvard Medical School will launch the Charles R. Broderick Phytocannabinoid Research Initiative to explore “basic, translational, and clinical research aimed at generating fundamental insights about the effects of cannabinoids.” MIT will divide its half of the gift into the work of four scientists at the McGovern and Picower Institutes where studies will examine the relationship between cannabis and schizophrenia as well as the potential therapeutic value for those with Huntington’s Disease or Autism spectrum disorders.
3. Severe Autism: The University of California-San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) the Wholistic Research and Education Foundation, and the Ray and Tye Noorda Foundation are supporting a clinical study into how CBD might provide therapeutic benefits for pediatric severe Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The study will work with 30 ASD children between 8 and 12 to determine if the CBD administration helps their systems, if there is a safe and tolerable dose, if CBD and how alters neurotransmitters and/or improves brain connectivity, and if biomarkers of neuroinflammation are altered by CBD.
4. Anxiety and Depression: Researchers from Iowa and Wisconsin universities are looking into how serum endocannabinoids enhance the mood improving effects of physical exercise in subjects with major depression.
In a large case study underway at the Department of Psychiatry, Department of Naturopathic Medicine, Wholeness Center, North Range Behavioral Health, and School of Social Work in Colorado universities, researchers are working with human subjects studying the effects of cannabis on decreasing anxiety and improving sleep disorders.
5. Cancer: The National Cancer Institute through the National Institute of Health has published its 2019 PDQ® Health Professional Version with advice the benefits of medicinal cannabis for people burdened with cancer include “antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep.”
Research using resources across Canadian universities found pediatric patients do not tolerate the nabilone control of Chemotherapy-induced Nausea and Vomiting well. Ten of the 110 patients were removed from the program for adverse effects, but the remaining adverse effects were deemed to be minor.
Where does research go from here?
The most significant research in any field involves lengthy procedures and complex checks and balance. It involves counter research and peer reviews and attempts to secure approval for specific formulation and application take even longer.
There is ample evidence of a desire and willingness to do the work. Some money is loosening up. But the immediate need is to change governmental, institutional, and financial attitudes about initiating the intellectual efforts. It’s even conceivable the FDA could continue its cannabis classification while encouraging research to open minds and pocketbooks.