As of the November 2016 election, 29 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medicinal and/or recreational use.  Consequently, cannabis consumption has steadily increased over the years despite its status as a federally illegal Schedule I drug.

But cannabis isn’t the terrifying menace it has been unfairly depicted and codified as by federal law; research suggests that marijuana has a range of medicinal benefits in addition to providing consumers with a non-toxic and overdose-free form of recreation.Marijuana’s been here, it’s still here, and it looks like America has moved past its Reefer Madness days.

The ethical response to this assimilation into mainstream culture is to accurately and honestly study the effects of marijuana consumption.  That’s what Bill Nye the Science Guy would do.

What is NIDA?

According to their website, the federal government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Health Institute (NIH) permits and funds studies on the medicinal benefits of cannabis but does not have an official stand on legalization for recreational or medicinal use: “NIDA’s role is to conduct and support scientific research on drugs and drug abuse NIDA Cannabisand to advise the public and policy-makers […] on the results of that research—with the goal of ensuring that the nation’s drug policies are informed by science.”

Let’s get a little etymological here for a second and talk about that word.  Science.  Originally coming from the Latin word for knowledge, scientia, the term has evolved to mean, according to Merriam-Webster, “the state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.”  Another definition says that science is “knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.”

While a demanding one, that’s a pretty straightforward definition.  So when NIDA says that they are dedicated to informing the nation’s marijuana policies with science, you’ve got to figure that they’re studying marijuana representative of what people actually consume, right?  You know, like, if someone wanted to know what a rose smelled like, they would smell a rose and not a carnation?  Right?  Science?

WRONG!

LIES!

SAD!

Sorry. Too much Twitter lately.

THC Testing: NIDA Cannabis vs. Consumer Cannabis

According to an October 2016 study, the cannabis produced by the NIDA funded cannabis farm is significantly less potent than cannabis used by consumers in the legal medical and recreational markets. The study arrived at this conclusion by comparing data on recreational and medical marijuana from Denver, Oakland, Sacramento, and Seattle provided by Steep Hill Labs Inc. to data publicized on NIDA’s website regarding their cannabis.

Let’s compare NIDA THC levels with the THC present in a few popular strains on the market.

NIDA cannabis has an average of 5.15% of THC.

According to data from Wikileaf, popular strains have percentages that far surpass NIDA’s. For example…

Sour Diesel has 17% THC.

Lemon Kush has an average of 15% THC.

Hashberry has an average of 15% THC.

Stardawg has an average of 16% THC.

Tres Dawg has an average of 20% THC.

Sour Jack has an average of 19% THC.

You get the picture. Each of those strains has at least three times the amount of THC as the cannabis produced by NIDA.

NIDA Test Results and Federal Rescheduling

Even NIDA acknowledges that the potency of publicly consumed marijuana has increased, demonstrating an informed decision to research cannabis quite different from what the public actually uses.

This is incredibly problematic. The reason the DEA gives for denying two 2016 proposals that cannabis be rescheduled is that there is a paucity of NIDA Cannabisscientific research supporting its medical use, and this conclusion was based on the collaborative recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and NIDA.

The only weed U.S. researchers are allowed to use must be government (NIDA) produced which calls the validity of those studies into question.  According to the aforementioned study, variations of cannabinoids can have an enormous effect on research outcomes.

So why does this disparity exist, and why is NIDA reacting to it so slowly?  A provocative 2013 article published in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics argues that pharmaceutical companies are essentially colluding with Congress and the FDA.

Big Pharma and Cannabis

Representatives of Congress are not publicly funded, so they rely on donations made by a small percentage of the population.

Pharmaceutical companies, which make buku sums of money, are a formidable part of that population and consequently have way too biased influence on health care legislation.

This has dangerous consequences for patients who face a magnificent amount of adverse reactions after consuming pharmaceuticals lauded as new and innovative Big Pharma, NIDAby the FDA when, in reality, they are quite similar to existing drugs and, in response to pressure from Big Pharma, have not been subject to the rigorous review necessary to ensure the population’s safety.

Here’s what that means in math: The 170 million American users of pharmaceuticals experience 81 million side effects a year. 2.7 million hospital patients experienced adverse reactions to synthetic drugs.

Annually, 128,000 patients die from those reactions making adverse reactions to FDA approved drugs the fourth leading cause of death

Talk about a threat to national security. So how is this related to cannabis? Cannabis is a plant that can be consumed naturally.  It doesn’t need to be synthesized. It doesn’t need to be turned into a little white pill, so it doesn’t need pharmaceutical companies.

Not the way Congress apparently does. Perhaps that explains why NIDA states that the use of marijuana based synthetic medications is “more promising than use of the whole marijuana plant or its crude extracts” and that consuming marijuana as medicine risks “THC-induced cognitive impairment.”

Wait—what’s that smell? Could it be… alternative facts?!

The Future of Medical Testing

The obviousness of this hypocrisy is absurd.  The FDA’s resistance to embrace a non-toxic plant that consumers can’t overdose on when they’ve approved drugs that are debilitating and killing patients from adverse reactions and overdoses at epidemic proportions is absurd.

On a more hopeful note, the DEA has stated that it will allow more marijuana manufacturers to apply for registration to cultivate marijuana approved for federal research.

Additionally, with a $68.8 million contract awarded by NIH in March 2015, NIDA has stated plans to diversify its supply of cannabis in order to more closely reflect what customers and medical patients are consuming in the real world.

What that means in terms of who those manufacturers will be, the exact cannabinoid percentages this diversified marijuana will represent, and the type of products researched isn’t all that clear.

And, really, that’s probably the point.

Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.