A study done by the University of Colorado (CU) in Boulder, confirms what researchers have suspected for years. NIDA grown marijuana for cannabis research purposes, has very little in common with what private growers sell in terms of chemical variety and potency.
NIDA marijuana grown for cannabis research doesn’t resemble that which is available on the market at all, which means study’s outcomes are dubious.
Science Magazine considers a study comparing the chemical profiles of privately grown and government-grown marijuana. It seems tolerance towards marijuana in the US is finally on the rise as four more states approve recreational use.
The problem is, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) supplies academics with only a handful of special marijuana strains, which it has approved for all research. The study done recently by CU questions the validity of dozens of studies based on the government-grown marijuana.
Plant geneticist at CU, Nolan Kane, says everyone knew this was the case, but this is the first truly extensive study comparing compounds.
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Research was restrained by the strains used
Marijuana effectively became illegal in 1937. It became a Schedule I substance in 1970, and around that time the DEA’s predecessor, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs started regulating cultivation of marijuana for research. In the intervening four decades, the University of Mississippi held the exclusive contract for growing marijuana for research. The effect on driving ability, and the treatment of glaucoma were the main areas of interest.
Would the findings of those studies reflect accurately what people using marijuana experience? Probably not.
Marijuana becomes more widely used
With marijuana becoming more widely used, Kane and colleagues requested data from Steep Hill Labs, based in Berkeley, California where 2980 marijuana samples were analyzed using high-performance liquid chromatography. Dispensaries in Colorado, Washington, and California all send their samples there to verify levels of psychoactive components including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their retail product. This was done to identify individual molecules and compile a menu of the chemical compounds available in each strain.
Wide variety of compounds
The research compared the compounds analyzed by both Steep Hill and NIDA. The Steep Hill analysis includes many more compounds than the NIDA analysis. The range of cannabinoid levels in privately grown marijuana was wide, with diverse mixes of various cannabinoids and terpenes.
The federal strain had “limited diversity,” and THC levels on average were 10 – 15% lower in NIDA supplied cannabis than the least potent samples supplied by the legal dispensaries. Kane said that the NIDA marijuana is not a good analog to that found on the private market. THC is often the primary focus of federally funded studies, yet increasing consensus in cannabis research shows various cannabinoids working in tandem creates the “entourage effect,” from which medicinal benefit is derived.
Daniela Vergara, study leader said, “The bottom line is that if you can’t have people consuming the cannabis they usually consume, then your research is not going to be valid.”
The DEA didn’t comment on the statements made, but recently announced the decision to increase the number of farms eligible to grow marijuana for research “to potentially increase the variety and strains available to scientists.”
Kane said this is a good start, but ideally they would like to see federal guidelines revised to allow researchers to test any legally sold cannabis strains.
Another expert Ethan Russo, a neurologist and psychopharmacology researcher, agrees saying, “Because of the constraints on this research, we’ve taken a backseat to the rest of the world. We should be leading.”