2021 has been a big year for marijuana. Specifically, for marijuana legalization. Early this year, multiple states, including Connecticut and New Mexico, legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Although many of these states have taken the first step to legalize weed, their markets are not opening until 2022. Regardless, this is overall good news for those who smoke and work within the cannabis market. New regulations come with legalization. As it turns out, new regulations allow for cannabis research into medical marijuana. The new and loosened regulations for cannabis research could potentially lead to advances in medical treatment. In the long run, this can benefit patients suffering from chronic pain and other conditions. 

Current Roadblocks in Cannabis Research 

Demand Outweighs Supply

It has been difficult for scientists who research cannabis due to previous regulations. Because of these outdated regulations, cannabis research has been limited. Specifically, the marijuana used for research has been limited to one facility in Mississippi. This one company has difficulties supplying researchers across the nation. Additionally, this facility did not have a large enough variety of weed. In other words, this means that what was available to study was extremely limited. Understandably, this could not result in much medical advancement or scientific discoveries. 

Now, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states that more companies can begin supplying researchers with marijuana. Dr. Sue Sisley says this is a positive move for cannabis research. Dr. Sisley is the president and principal investigator at Scottsdale Research Institute. 

Diversity of Product 

Dr. Igor Grant agrees that there needs to be a larger diversity of products in cannabis research. Dr. Grant is the director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at UC San Diego. He explains that while researchers are working with a limited selection of marijuana, what is actually consumed is much different. “For example, street product[s] increased in potency to 12% 15%”, he states in an interview. 

Additionally, the new DEA policy would increase the diversity of research products. As of recently, researchers were only able to study cannabis that could be smoked. This excludes cannabis products like THC creams that can be used to treat aches and pains. Dr. Sisley believes that this will greatly benefit cannabis research. Past DEA regulations limited her study on marijuana as a PTSD treatment for military veterans. “Finally, now, we will have the appropriate study drug that can help us move forward to uncovering new treatments for these vets,” Sisley said. Having current, real-world kinds of cannabis will hopefully provide much-needed answers to patients.

More diversity will also allow researchers to work with more strains. Dr. Sisley emphasizes the importance of having the availability to a variety of weed may lead to new answers. “Like what strains are best for what illnesses, those studies have never been able to be done because the strains that were available at the University of Mississippi were so limited,” Dr. Sisley explains. Having more information will allow medical professionals to better determine whether someone should add cannabis to their treatment plan. 

Legal Push for Cannabis Research 

Former New York Giants running back, Tiki Barber, wrote an op-ed about scientific research into marijuana. As a former athlete, Barber understands the idea of taking care of one’s body. Specifically, in the medications and treatments one takes. Barber explains how many of his peers relied on opioids for treatment since they are legal for athletes. Such drugs can lead to liver and kidney damage. In his article, he applauds the NFL and NFL Players Association for funding $1 million in research grants. The money will be used to explore pain management and cannabis. 

Barber believes that although the NFL has funded the needed cannabis research, it’s up to the government for real change. Barber emphasizes the importance of declassifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. That classification includes dangerous and potentially addictive drugs, such as heroin. The federal government states that cannabis has no medicinal use and has a high potential for abuse. 

Barber disagrees and believes that scientists should be allowed to study it. Because marijuana is not legal on a federal level, some researchers run the risk of losing their medical licenses. Although the NFL funding cannabis research demonstrates how the public view is shifting, more work is needed. Even though Barber himself is not a cannabis user, he believes we need to learn more about this ancient botanical. The scientific discoveries could benefit patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, or simply sports-related injuries. Public opinion on weed is steadily evolving. With it, the federal government must change the classification of cannabis too.