The recent decision by the Drug Enforcement Agency to continue classifying cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug was met with anger and frustration by many Americans – the presidents on Mount Rushmore might have even rolled their eyes. Not only is it dangerous from a punitive standpoint – as it effectively puts pot on the same level as ecstasy and heroin – but it’s also dangerous from a medical research and testing standpoint: some fear that the DEA’s stubbornness will leave marijuana exploration DOA. Luckily, the rumors are more optimistic.
The US government announced that it will fund additional cannabis research despite its refusal to reclassify. It’s a bit perplexing, since the willingness of the government to allow more studying contradicts the Schedule 1 definition – drugs under this umbrella are considered highly addictive, dangerous, and offer no medical use. But marijuana proponents view this research allowance as winning a battle in a war that remains undecided.
Research as it Stands
The research behind marijuana isn’t limited, but it’s not outstandingly broad either: a lot is known and a lot of questions remain unanswered. That seems to be how science works: years back, Pluto was a planet, now it’s just Mickey Mouse’s dog.
One of the things (if not the main thing) preventing present and future studies of cannabis’s ability is the government’s interference. Because cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug (hmph!), it’s hard to obtain and, long after scientists and researchers get their hands on the green, there’s more red tape. Regulations, high security technology, and clearances come into play each time pot goes under the microscope – and let’s not forget about politics! All of this makes research more expensive and more constrained, making people less inspired to do it.
But, that’s not the only hoop: supply’s an issue as well. The DEA allows federally sanctioned cannabis research only under very specific circumstances: namely,
Marijuana must be cultivated from a garden at the University of Mississippi
Here, Uncle Sam is the groundskeeper: The National Institute on Drug Abuse closely monitors the entire operation. This limits the supply drastically, creating a bottleneck and delaying medical breakthroughs. Cures and treatments we could see in five years might be decades off because of bureaucracy.
With the government paving the way for more research, it’s possible they’ll think outside of the garden and allow scientists to find weed and supplies elsewhere. The DEA says it will: they plan to expand the entities where marijuana can legally be grown purely for research.
A willingness such as this helps take care of the supply problem (at least in part), so it’s a start.
Still, certain scientists and the like find themselves discouraged by cannabis merely because of its Schedule 1 classification: in short, it has a reputation even if it shouldn’t. People don’t enjoy miring themselves in controversy and some fear losing their jobs because of it.
Another obstacle worth noting is the research itself: exactly what kind of studies will the government truly allow? For years, politicians funded experiments in an attempt to prove pot dangerous (they claimed it was a gateway to vials of crack rather than boxes of crackers). They failed to consider its benefits. Marijuana isn’t alone in this way of thinking – wine was deemed harmful for decades before the antioxidant advantages took center stage (and we noticed the very low incidence of heart disease in cheese-filled France). Now, we raise a glass in good health.
Whether future research will focus on marijuana’s benefits or past dangers already explored or disproven is anyone’s guess: if we see a report linking cannabis to the extinction of the dodo bird, that’ll be disheartening.
Why Reform is Needed
No matter where you stand on the legalization issue, cannabis’s Schedule 1 classification may someday affect your life. With the research hamstrung, so are those who may benefit from untapped discoveries.
As recently as 2013, per the American Medical Association, less than two dozen randomized controlled trials (the gold standard of scientific testing) have tested the benefits of inhaled marijuana. Despite research pointing towards cannabis as a healer, the ganja remains gridlocked.
In fact, a large portion of the research involving cannabis is often performed under less valid or less randomized conditions. It’s a conundrum:
The government wants to believe pot is bad but they won’t fund the studies that prove it’s not
A compounding issue is potency. Weed grown at the University of Mississippi and made available to researchers is much weaker than the marijuana products on the market (medicinal and recreational). And the chasm is wide.
According to a study conducted at the University of New Mexico, the highest level of THC from the government’s garden is 12.4 percent, and the most recent studies funded by the folks in DC used weed with THC levels of 3.5 and 7 percent. To put this into perspective, recreational weed and medicinal weed is sold with THC percentages averaging 18-19 percent, though some go quite a bit higher.
Since THC is a cannabinoid (and cannabinoids are where the pot’s perks arise), conducting studies with low percentages doesn’t offer a great deal of legitimacy. It’s like trying to discover the benefits of a dose of aspirin but only using a third of the pill.
Marijuana does at least have doctors on its side: according to Science magazine, 75 percent of physicians label medical cannabis as a safe and effective treatment. US citizens seem to agree: medical marijuana is more legal than illegal. And recreational is slowly gaining ground. Watch out world, here weed come.
And yet, the Schedule 1 classification still proves harmful. Until it’s reclassified, something Hillary Clinton vows to push if elected, the research surrounding marijuana remains hampered.
Cocaine’s classification muddies the waters further: it’s a Schedule II drug. This is because it is used in medicine (in limited capacity, but used nonetheless). Cannabis is also used in medicine, leaving us to scratch our heads at the hypocrisy. After all, marijuana is a vegetable, and yet, somehow, it’s deemed more dangerous than crack.