Academia is stepping up to help develop an understanding and acceptance of cannabis, working with industry moves and shakers to expand what we know and fill in the gaps of what we don’t.
The prospect of more frequent and higher-quality academic cannabis research received a glimmer of hope last year when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), while not changing the schedule of cannabis, allowed for more research to be done by both researchers and private companies.
The University of Mississippi, through its National Center for Natural Products Research School of Pharmacy, has been the only place where researchers can get legally-grown cannabis for their research. The university supplies high-quality marijuana to cannabis researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and has a partnership with the Food and Drug Administration.
The UM grow has recently come under fire, however, when a Johns Hopkins study was cancelled due to the university’s low-quality cannabis.
Still, there is careful progress being made.
Unsurprisingly, one of the universities getting involved in cannabis research is in California, at the University of San Diego, the location of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR). The facility has conducted high-quality scientific studies about the general medical safety and efficacy of cannabis and cannabis products, and studies alternative forms of cannabis administration.
One active study at the CMCR involves stoned driving, authorized by the California Legislature (Assembly Bill 266, the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act) to help with detection of driving under the influence of cannabis. Healthy volunteers will inhale smoked cannabis with either 0 percent (placebo), 6.7 percent, or 12.6 percent THC levels at the beginning of the day, and then complete driving simulations, iPad-based performance assessments and bodily fluid draws (blood, saliva, breath) before smoking cannabis, and then hourly over the subsequent seven hours post-ingestion.
“I think that is going to accelerate the kind of technological advances across the spectrum. And we need it. Because now that the market has become more competitive, it’s going to force the growth of new technologies.”
There is also the Institute of Cannabis Research at the University of Colorado in Pueblo, conducting research on cannabis and seizures in adults.
Even renowned Oxford University, the oldest university in England, is getting into the academia research game. They announced in March a partnership with Kingsley Capital Partners, who will provide $12.36 million to be funneled into a new entity, Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies. Star Trek and X-Men actor Patrick Stewart is a fan of the new arrangement; he uses cannabis to help his arthritis.
But academia is working on more than just what’s in the cannabis, and what it does to humans.
Much of the research into human studies has its own trapdoors, as federally-funded research runs into a Schedule 1 issue with cannabis. Researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder and Washington State University have to follow strict guidelines on what they can and can’t study—usually resulting in the utilization of a variation of hemp (therapeutics, such as oils), or a being forced to work with a cannabis substitute, like hops.
Outside the actual cannabis plant, there are other studies under way. For example, the University of Colorado in Pueblo is also doing research on infrastructure development for grow facilities.
And Rutgers University is working with Terra Tech on infrastructure planning and public policy. “Today you are getting a greater amount of attention being paid to the industry,” Derek Peterson, chairman, CEO and president of Terra Tech, says. “We are doing a lot of research with Rutgers now. And you are seeing big institutions coming in. So now we have a bigger pool of human capital at play in the business that we didn’t have a few years ago,” he says. “I think that is going to accelerate the kind of technological advances across the spectrum. And we need it. Because now that the market has become more competitive, it’s going to force the growth of new technologies.”