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NIDA’s cannabis research priorities:
Cannabis might still be federally illegal, but federally funded researchers are increasingly thinking about the plant, its components, and how changing cannabis laws are affecting Americans in the short and long term.
In October, Colorado State University Pueblo continued its Institute of Cannabis Research series with Susan Weiss, the director of the Division of Extramural Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), co-hosted also by the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp at Thomas Jefferson University. Weiss serves as the senior science advisor to NIDA director Nora Volkow.
One area where NIDA is focused includes studies on the long-term health effects on teenagers and pregnant people.
Another area that NIDA is watching is in the “perceived harmfulness of regular” cannabis consumption, which in the 12-17 group has been dropping over time.
“The adolescents are not showing increased use at this time, but they certainly don’t view it as particularly harmful,” Weiss said.
Weiss also mentioned the Marijuana Potency Monitoring Project, which NIDA has supported for years, through the University of Mississippi (which was for decades, until this year, the only federally-approved site for cannabis cultivation in the nation). The data analysis of seized samples from the illicit market show that THC content has risen, while CBD has either remained steady or dropped.
This doesn’t account for the cannabis products sold by state-licensed operators in state-legal shops.
“It’s something that we’re starting to look at,” Weiss said, adding that NIDA’s “understanding” is that these products are also of increasing THC content.
While the Drug Enforcement Administration has finally moved to license additional cannabis cultivators to grow for research purposes, that process was delayed for nearly half a decade.
“We’re very happy that that has happened,” Weiss said. “We’ve tried to diversify the types of cannabis that we have available for research, but we’re still limited relative to what is out there. And having additional growers, I think, might be able to really help expand the types of research that we can do, both for medicinal use, just as well as effects.”
Researchers will use the 5 mg standard dose:
Last year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse announced that a “standard THC unit” will be 5 milligrams, marking the first federal definition of a cannabis “dose” for researchers.
NIDA published a notice to researchers that the “standard THC unit is defined as any formulation of cannabis plant material or extract that contains 5 milligrams of THC.” This standard dose mainly applies to researchers applying to study THC, rather than other cannabinoids.
“Inconsistency in the measurement and reporting of THC exposure has been a major limitation in studies of cannabis use, making it difficult to compare findings among studies,” the notice read.
“A standardized measure of THC in cannabis products is necessary to advance research by providing greater comparability across studies of both its adverse effects and potential medical uses.”
Congress will take up cannabis research in 2022:
Last year, the Medical Marijuana Research Act was introduced, but stalled. That could change in 2022, as previous versions of cannabis research legislation passed in both chambers.
Also, cannabis research as it relates to veterans is almost certain to return to The Hill again, as support rises for both veterans access and more data about how to treat conditions like chronic pain and PTSD.
And, last year, Congress took a step toward a national definition for driving when it passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which contains language aimed at combating impaired driving, including cannabis-impaired driving.
As Cannabis Wire reported in our daily newsletter throughout last year, cannabis-impaired driving remains a topic that is spurring a lot of research, and that will continue in 2022.