Cannabis, in its medical and recreational forms, is a topic that’s almost always in the news. States are legalizing it for medical use or for recreational use, all while the federal government still considers it a schedule 1 drug, making it illegal on the federal level. What most of these articles don’t address is the health impact of cannabis use in both the short and long term. What are clinical trials telling us about the health impacts of cannabis?
On Open Clinical Trials
Currently, there are 79 clinical trials being completed in the United States. Some focus on specific conditions — around 18% are studying the effects of cannabis on mental illness, and 3% are studying chronic pain, and another 3% are studying the effects of marijuana on cancer. 46% of the studies focus on different diseases — things like epilepsy, COPD, and MS are all currently being studied.
While that might seem like a decent majority, the remaining 30% of clinical trials are all focused on the potential negative effects of marijuana.
Many of the studies completed in the last few years have found that that cannabinoids have a variety of positive effects —and determined the best dosage for different effects. In spite of these successes, the federal government remains steadfast in its belief that marijuana is a dangerous drug that must be kept illegal rather than decriminalized or legalized.
They’re also, for the most part, ignoring the different marijuana strains. Many researchers even believe that all cannabis strains are basically the same thing which may be stunting research in the United States. The research is also restricted by the source of the marijuana to be studied — all marijuana for medical research comes from one single farm in Mississippi, run by the National Institute for Drug Abuse.
Research Outside the US
Many parts of the world look at marijuana differently than those of us in the United States. The Netherlands has decriminalized the drug, as has the Czech Republic, and Canada has made it legal country-wide for medical use. In Israel, cannabis is legal for medicinal use and the Israeli medical researchers have been making great strides in the last 50 years.
Researchers in Israel have been studying more than 50 different strains of the plant, and have upwards of 300 different companies working toward the goal of medical marijuana research. Thus far, they have researched the plant’s effect on around 200 different cancer cells.
Israel has joined forces with both Canada and the Netherlands to create a government sponsored cannabis program. Even United States scientists are starting to export their research to one of these three countries due to the harsh restrictions here at home.
While marijuana remains a schedule 1 drug, it will be nearly impossible for researchers in the United States to research cannabis properly and it remains difficult to determine the long and short term impacts of cannabis on overall health. With the multi country government sponsored cannabis program assisting with research in Israel, Canada, and the Netherlands, hopefully some of these questions can be answered in the near future.