While the amount of scientific knowledge and understanding of cannabis is just in its infancy, the advent of legalization is beginning to really change all that. As legalization becomes law at a federal national level in countries across the world, new research is destined to document how deluded the War on Drugs really was.
That said, it is also a very good time, for the same reason, to benchmark knowledge to date about a drug which stands to revolutionize healthcare if not health management on all fronts.
A new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine makes a stab at doing just that.
According to the authors, this is one of the “most comprehensive studies of recent research on the health effects of recreational and therapeutic cannabis published since 1999.”
The committee’s findings were not surprising to those in the know about the medical marvel cannabis represents. On the therapeutic front, the NAS study found that cannabis was a useful therapeutic drug for individuals suffering from chemo-induced nausea and vomiting, chronic pain, MS and another muscle spasticity. That said, the report also noted that the supposed relief for such conditions was “modest.”
Other findings are equally tepid, including vague statements on the impact of cannabis on immunity, cancer prevention, and lung disease.
The study also made sure to note the unknown impacts of cannabis on the cardiovascular system. And of course, since this was a U.S. federal government funded support, authors considered the associations between cannabis use and injury and deaths. That said, to their credit, authors made sure to note that it is unclear what the connection is (or if there is one) between cannabis use and occupational injury if not “all-cause” mortality.
The committee behind the report conducted an extensive review of literature databases to compile the report. In doing so, staff reviewed more than 10,000 scientific extracts for their relevance for the report.
Further, the committee arrived at nearly 100 different research conclusions related to cannabis and cannabinoid use. They then organized these into a further five categories – conclusive, substantial, moderate, limited and no/insufficient evidence.
The committee then prioritized future research needs and approaches which include:
- The need to address current research gaps – including the need for a national cannabis research agenda if not agency that would drive clinical and observational research, health policy and public safety decisions.
- Identification of actionable strategies to improve the quality of research conducted and the promotion of research standards and benchmarks.
- Improve data collection efforts
- Propose strategies for addressing the current barriers to the advancement of additional cannabis research.
Study authors concluded that their own report was published at a time when massive changes for the entire marijuana space are still underway.
Between the Lines
On one level, just the appearance of such a document from an ostensibly staid, government-funded research agency is a victory for reform. There is no longer any real debate in the scientific community that cannabinoid research offers vital new insights if not drugs that mankind really needs. The Drug War, in other words, when it comes to ganja, is basically over.
That said, other than this rather basic fact, what does this report really say or mean?
The fact that such little meaningful research (at least in the United States) is and has been done for the last 50 years is a direct result if not a casualty of the Drug War. By scheduling marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the federal government essentially guaranteed this.
Further, the only government entity that has the capability to change this reality is Congress – with the sign off of the White House on top of this. No matter the number of states which now have legalized medical use, the underlying debate here is less about pot than healthcare in general. As this is still a lightning third rail in Congress at the moment, unfortunately, the rescheduling of marijuana to be included in the mix is a concept that will just have to wait its turn in the sausage factory.
On top of this, while the NAS’s recommendations for proposing strategies for research are commendable, they really only need to propose one thing.
Rescheduling the drug at the federal level is the only thing that currently stands in the way of all of this.
That said, this may be another diplomatic nudge at the federal level to potentially try to move the DEA into a new stance on the medical efficacy of the drug.
The Bottom Line?
Worth a browse, but in general a snoozer. This is, in essence, an official review of highly limited, politically sensitive research over a period when the existence if not impact on the endocannabinoid system was just being discovered.
If anything, this study is already destined to be a benchmark of how far we have yet to go, even four years after Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational use in practice.