The State of Medical Marijuana Research

Continued Restrictions on Cannabis Research Likely to Leave Foreign Institutions with a Competitive Advantage

In a speech to law enforcement officials last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions took yet another shockingly uninformed rhetorical stand against marijuana. After making the preposterous claim that marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin, Sessions went on to tell reporters afterwards, “I think medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much.”

Cannabis ResearchAttorney General Sessions is apparently unwilling to read, or even examine the facts about cannabis and, as a result, is left to his own preconceived notions and retrograde mental devices—fashioned, no doubt, from decades of exposure to drug war propaganda, the absurdities of reefer madness, and, perhaps, his longstanding connections with the prison-industrial complex.

Alas, Sessions’ befuddled mental state leaves him spouting off dim-witted, unscientific zingers about legal marijuana causing violent crime, or other baseless claims about marijuana and opioid use that contradict the research published on the federal government’s own DrugAbuse.gov website (e.g. “The most striking finding was that legally protected marijuana dispensaries (LMDs) were associated with lower rates of dependence on prescription opioids, and deaths due to opioid overdose.”).

Still more, Sessions appears incapable of understanding how it is that 93% of Americans now favor legalizing medical marijuana—that it has nothing to do with a desire to be “fashionable,” as he put it, but is the result of the inexorable advance of medical science.

Clearly, the American people are far more open to the facts and logic of medical science than Mr. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.

Meanwhile, Sessions’ shameless parading of his own willful ignorance stands in stark contrast to another announcement made last week, albeit in a far more rational, intelligent, and coherent corner of the world.

Oxford’s New Medical Marijuana Research Program

Cannabis ResearchOxford University, one of the world’s premier research institutions, announced that it was launching a $12.36 million medical marijuana research program.

Oxford’s new multi-million dollar marijuana program is the result of a partnership with private equity firm Kingsley Capital Partners, and is being created to find new ways of treating people who suffer from certain debilitating diseases and chronic conditions, including cancer, inflammatory diseases, pain management, and neurological disorders. Oxford’s research expertise in these areas is world-renowned.

Given the current state of cannabis research, the millennia of evidence for the benefits of cannabis, and the exceptionally encouraging, yet limited, scientific studies to date, it is perhaps fitting that one of England’s oldest (circa 1096 A.D.) and most prestigious universities would embrace this exhilarating new area of research.

Not surprisingly, there is widespread excitement over the announcement. Oxford’s Zameel Cader, associate professor in clinical neurosciences, said that medical marijuana research is an “area of huge untapped potential.” Ahmed Ahmed, Professor of Gynaecological Oncology at Oxford, added, “This field holds great promise for developing novel therapeutic opportunities for cancer patients.”

Neil Mahapatra, managing partner at Kingsley Capital Partners, is equally thrilled about the possibilities, saying, “Through OCT [Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies], we hope our strategic partnership with Oxford will support the development of innovative new therapies to help millions of people around the world.”

Sharing in the excitement, X-Men actor Patrick Stewart, who recently announced that he uses cannabis to deal with arthritis in his hands, also offered his support of Oxford’s new medical marijuana research program. Stewart publicly endorsed the partnership writing, “I enthusiastically support the Oxford University Cannabis Research Plan. This is an important step forward for Britain in a field of research that has for too long been held back by prejudice, fear and ignorance.”

The Oxford medical marijuana research program will focus on the endocannabinoid system within the human brain. “Oxford will seek to identify cutting edge medical therapies through research into the molecular, cellular and systems mechanisms of cannabinoids,” writes Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies, the company established by Oxford and Kingsley “to combine the potential of cannabinoid medicine with world class scientific research.” Oxford also promises to host an international conference at the end of 2017 to “increase dialogue in the cannabinoid research space.”

The State of Cannabis Research

Cannabis Industry in 1906Despite what some politicians and officials within the federal government would like people to believe, there is substantial scientific research which reveals a wide array of therapeutic effects of cannabis. There are indeed a surprising number of potential health benefits, some of which are backed by conclusive scientific evidence, as the federal government’s own National Academy of Sciences has recently reported. Even while the U.S. Congress continues to deny the medical benefits of cannabis, sufficient evidence exists to support the use of cannabis as medicine for a remarkable variety of health issues, including chronic pain, symptoms of multiple sclerosis, and the side effects of chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients.

What’s more, cannabis researchers and scientists have made great strides in understanding the cannabis plant and its constituent cannabinoids, as well as the endocannabinoid system in the human body and brain. These advances show great promise for the therapeutic potential of cannabis, including some of the most common diseases in the world, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other neurological and inflammatory diseases.

Nevertheless, our understanding of the endocannabinoid system and the effects of cannabis on these various diseases is still incomplete. While progress has been remarkable and highly encouraging, our greatest need is for greater and more rigorous research. We still have far too frustratingly few high-quality human studies.

Cannabis Research in the U.S.

Thus, our greatest challenge, unfortunately, at least here in the United States, is our own government’s failure to acknowledge the growing research, facts, and findings of medical science.

Cannabis Research
Image credit: Modern Scribe Photography™

The research of medical marijuana in the U.S. will continue to be at significant disadvantage so long as the federal government continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule I drug. This classification not only makes marijuana exceedingly, often prohibitively, difficult to work with, but the government’s oversight and supply (which, to date, includes only a single facility at the University of Mississippi) also significantly impacts the quality of the cannabis available (to the point that its legitimacy is dubious) to those few institutions who are able to eventually work their way through the arduous approval process of the DEA.

Given the outstanding record of scientific research in the United States, these continued restrictions and limits not only leave the science of medical marijuana at a significant disadvantage, but they will likely leave U.S. institutions at a significant competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace.

The future of medical marijuana research is no doubt in good hands at places like Oxford University. And Oxford’s new multi-million dollar medical marijuana research program sends a fantastic signal to other premier research institutions around the world. But it should also sound a clear alarm for cannabis supporters in the United States.

The question is: Are we really going to allow uninformed, retrograde politicians like Jeff Sessions cripple the cannabis research agenda in the U.S., the numerous potential developments and discoveries of American researchers, and the future health of so many millions of Americans? Or will we finally stand up and pressure our elected officials to finally pass sensible cannabis legislation?

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