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Mary Jane’s Guide: Research, how much is enough?

Just say no. It had such a quaint ring to it, hearkening back to a simpler time when some thought that binary choices – black and white – could be applied to substance use. In today’s political climate, no has switched to yes, as illustrated by a majority of presidential candidates who now support a spectrum of cannabis legalization policies. Some, though, like Mike Bloomberg, Joe Biden, Republicans and the Trump administration are stuck in another time. Their supposed concern? Research, or a perceived lack thereof.

To Bloomberg, marijuana legalization without research represents a “mad, passionate rush to let everybody do things.”Biden thinks “we should determine what other side effects would occur.” Republican John Cornyn, running again for his Texas Senate seat, echoed the two Democrats, saying “We have a lot of questions we need to answer.” The Trump administration’s position? A flat-out no.

Is there enough research to legalize cannabis for adult use? Yes and no.

First, no. By its very nature, research on any issue can never be “enough.” Humanity’s innate and insatiable hunger for understanding the world depends on its very elements: inquiring, testing, learning, knowing and changing.

Still, because of cannabis’ unique history, neither should insufficiency be an excuse. Consider these nine points:

  1. The plant wasn’t invented yesterday. It evolved about 28 million years ago on the Tibetan Plateau and is believed to be one of the earliest cultivated plants. Scientists have traced ritual smoking back to 500 B.C.E. An extensive 1894 study by the British Indian Government concluded that “moderate use of hemp (read cannabis) drugs produces no injurious effects.”

  2. The majority of American adults have tried marijuana at least once. That’s over 100 million people – breaking federal law. About 30 million use it monthly. Medical marijuana patients number 3.1 million in the 33 states where medical cannabis is legal, with Kentucky about to join the club. Ohio counts 84,000 registered patients. Around 78 million people reside in the 11 adult-use states.

  3. Even with those numbers, “marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man” wrote DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis L. Young in 1988. A toxicological review published in 2006 found no recorded cannabis deaths – ever. What about vaping? According to the CDC, those illnesses are strongly linked to a cutting agent used in illicit products, not to cannabis itself.

  4. No research? What about from the National Institutes of Medicine? A search for studies concerning “cannabinoids” found “astonishing 5900 in 2004.” That search today yields 26,477, and for “marijuana,” rises to 32,308. In contrast, highly advertised SkyriziTM (risankizumab-rzaa) counts only 92.

  5. How about marijuana-specific studies and reports? Like, say, the 6,000 pages of them in Granny Storm Crow's List, all organized by condition, topic and year. Or the International Association of Cannabinoid Medicine's List of Clinical Studies and Case Reports. Or the research excerpts and detailed statistics in Drug War Facts.

  6. Many common, often deadly drugs were grandfathered in and remain on the market without prior research. These include acetaminophen, aspirin, benzocaine, codeine, oxycodone and phenobarbital.

  7. Research doesn’t necessarily equal safety. Remember Vioxx (rofecoxib)? That widely used, billion-dollar NSAID pain medication? Gone due to dire side effects. It joins hundreds of other drugs: researched, approved, marketed, then removed.

  8. Results can be questionable. “Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife.” Sounds dire, right? Bloomberg, Biden and Cornyn think so. This often-cited 2012 New Zealand study of twins was disproven in 2016 by a re-analysis of the data. As reported in the Journal Science, “After taking environmental factors into account, the scientists found no measurable link between marijuana use and lower IQ.”

  9. It’s nearly impossible to conduct cannabis research in the U.S. anyway. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 slotted marijuana into the most restrictive Schedule 1 under the auspices of “a lack of accepted safety.” Four attempts at rescheduling over the last fifty years failed. Virtually insurmountable federal barriers to scientific inquiry include multiagency scrutiny, low grade supply, no pharma big bucks, negative federal bias, problems with placebo, varying modes of ingestion, and no standard dose. The median cost of just one clinical trial, which can last several years, is $19 million.

Bloomberg’s, Biden’s, Cornyn’s and the Trump administration’s anxieties concerning cannabis research are little more than smoked fish. Their red herring statements are intended to distract from the fundamental issue: cannabis use by adults has been a human phenomenon for millennia and practiced by millions today. It’s been widely studied and it’s fairly safe.

What these politicians are really trying to do is roll the clock back to a time of simplistic binary – black and white – thinking. Back then, all they had to do was just say no … case closed.

Read this article on the Columbus Free Press website here.

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