There is so much potential in cannabis. It can help to alleviate chronic pain caused by a number of health conditions. It can reduce our reliance on opioids while also lessening the side effects we experience from other medications. And it’s also effective in treating depression and anxiety and improving mental health and quality of life. I could keep going, but you get the point.
It’s this potential that should have cannabis in the limelight, but there are still places in the United States that deny any form of legal cannabis use (looking at you Idaho, Nebraska, and Kansas). As legalization sweeps across the country, it’s not only about giving people recreational and medicinal access to cannabis products, but also about giving scientists and other experts the ability to conduct the necessary (and badly needed) research on the physical and mental health benefits of the plant.
The studies I mentioned above have been monumental in linking cannabis to health benefits, but they aren’t the same as expansive, long-term research. The reason for this limited research has been two-fold: Cannabis is illegal at the federal level, and U.S. researchers were prohibited from accessing cannabis anywhere except from the University of Mississippi because of a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). But that monopoly is finally coming to an end.
A lot has happened this past year. Toward the end of 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a historic bill decriminalizing marijuana. A few months later, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced it’s in the process of registering a multitude of other American companies to grow cannabis for medical and scientific purposes. And this month, the House approved a bill that gives researchers the ability to study cannabis products from state-legal dispensaries as well.
This marks an important development in cannabis studies and is also one of the first cannabis-inspired initiatives pushed through the Biden administration.
Relying on a single grower hindered cannabis research opportunities
The problem of studying only strains grown at the University of Mississippi is they had lower concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol than the products made available to consumers not only in Mississippi, but also in other areas of the country. So, while researchers could study the varieties of marijuana produced at the University of Mississippi, these studies weren’t really relevant to consumers. Imagine taking an entire plant, putting it in a wood chipper, and sending the ground-up product to researchers. This is what the University of Mississippi does.
Dr. Sue Sisley, a cannabis research scientist and President of Scottsdale Research Institute, has been very vocal about her experiences and how detrimental the Mississippi monopoly has been for her studies. Sisley currently is studying the potential usefulness of marijuana to treat PTSD in military veterans. The diluted product she’s been forced to work with, which she described as an “anemic greenish powder,” has made her trial extremely difficult and has provided no conclusive results, so she’s become an advocate for research reform.
There has been such a significant disconnect for decades. The problem wasn’t just with the quality of the Mississippi-grown cannabis, but is also an issue with the lack of diversity. By increasing the number of growers, the government finally is diversifying marijuana research. And scientists who are allowed to study products sold at state-licensed dispensaries will be better able to measure the impact and potential benefits of THC and CBD that individuals and patients are using in the real world.
Thousands of strains exist, and they all have distinct chemical profiles that produce unique effects. Scientists and researchers need access to the varieties of marijuana that are on the market to truly measure cannabis’ impact on consumers.
Why all this is important
There is a gap in our knowledge and understanding in regard to cannabis and how it can benefit us physically and mentally, and this leads to mass misjudgment and confusion. The public is unclear about how people should use cannabis, and medical professionals struggle to guide their patients to products that can make a difference in their lives.
I found my way to the cannabis sector for this reason. I want to make people’s lives better while also making the world a better place, and I believe cannabis is part of this reality. To help aid pharmaceutical and biotech companies with research development and drug treatments, my company recently submitted several research license applications to the DEA to be part of these efforts.
Cannabis still has a long way to go to reach full legalization at the federal level, but by expanding research efforts, we’re finally making the necessary progress that will bring about life-altering change on a national and global level.
John Kaweske is the founder and chief executive officer of North Star Holdings Inc., a vertically-integrated, multi-state cannabis operator, and Tweedleaf, a cultivator and curator of premium cannabis products. Both companies are committed to providing locally-sourced medical cannabis to patients and consumers in need. In addition to his work in the cannabis industry, Kaweske is also the leader of Bio Clean Energy, S.A., and has become a renowned leader in the biodiesel and sustainable/renewable energy spheres.