Doing Scientific Research on an Illegal Drug (Cannabis)

Opponents of medical marijuana often say there simply isn’t enough research to say, with certainty, that the plant can provide a significant number of medical benefits. While supporters disagree, the argument brings up an interesting point—that it’s difficult to research a drug that the federal government would like to see kept under lock and key.

Currently, marijuana is classified by the US Federal Government as a Schedule I substance. This classification means that marijuana, according to federal law, has no legitimate medical use. In other words, it is not a medicine, merely a highly addictive and dangerous drug (their words, not ours). For the purposes of science, this classification is disastrous.

Studies have been done on the effects and benefits of marijuana. But, these studies have been small and not well-funded precisely because of the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance. So, when supporters of medical marijuana cite the studies that do exist, they are often chastised with statements about the scientific soundness of the research.

Rather than depending on government scientists to approve of existing studies or to do their own—which they won’t—medical marijuana has become a voter’s issue. Now, rather than wait for trials and studies, similar to a prescription drug, citizens are tasked with determining if marijuana is a useful treatment and voting for its use on a state-by-state basis.

“We haven’t done the studies because [the drug is] illegal,” said Dr. Eric Ruby, a Massachusetts pediatrician and father of a medical marijuana user. “Because it’s illegal, we can’t do the studies. That’s not scientific. That’s circular.”

So far, some of the most significant and scientifically sound research on the benefits of marijuana as a medical treatment have come from the University of California’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. The group received $9 million from the state  of California and even managed to secure some federal funding based on the reputation of the university. What researchers there have discovered is that marijuana and its components are successful at treating pain in a variety of patients. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. But, continual funding is hard to come by.

The states are quickly figuring this out. Medical marijuana is legal in 17 states, plus DC, and two more states (Massachusetts and Arkansas) may legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes in ballot initiatives this November.

But the US government is holding tightly to its war on marijuana. It’s almost as if they don’t want to know about the “suspected” benefits, like marijuana is better for them when it is illegal.

Whether it is a conspiracy for nefarious purposes, or merely incompetent government bureaucratic shortsightedness, the current complete clampdown on medical marijuana research must end.

About David Matson

David writes about criminal justice issues.
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  • steve

    ok i smoked for 38 yrs i’m 60 no health problems feel 30,,, it is not bad for u and i know for a fact it is not,i got hippie friends from the 70’s that still smoke still fine,i keep a watch o n them to c if anything is wrong but no so in 30 to 40 yrs no problems there is the facts ask anyone else,,,

  • steve

    the feds r crazy they just want an easy dam job thats all they want so they can wear suit and tie narc’s don’t don that someone needs to control them,,,

  • steve

    Dismantle the D.E.A, we as people would like to enjoy free living w/o anyone tellin us what to dam do,,,