Low-Quality Government Pot Could Be Negatively Impacting Federal Research

By Victoria Kim 03/17/17
Right now researchers are limited to using cannabis grown by the government, which they say is far below standard.
Commercial medical marijuana and government marijuana
From left to right: Commercial medical marijuana and government marijuana Photo via YouTube

Since 1968, the U.S. government has been the sole supplier of cannabis used in research studies. But the stuff they grow and ship out is far below standard, says researcher Sue Sisley, who provided photos of the government-grown marijuana to PBS News Hour.

The difference between the government's marijuana and the marijuana consumed by medical/recreational users across the country is clear in a side-by-side comparison. 

Instead of fluffy, nugget-like marijuana buds, the government-grown weed appears crushed up, dry, brittle, lighter in color, and looks like it has way too many stems. It looks more like "synthetic marijuana" than the real stuff.

“It didn’t resemble cannabis,” Sisley told PBS. “It didn’t smell like cannabis.” Sisley is the principal investigator of a study that is testing the effects of medical cannabis on military veterans living with PTSD who have not found success with other treatments.

Not only did the weed look suspect, Sisley said some of the samples were moldy or not as potent as she’d requested. “They weren’t able to produce what we were asking for,” she said. Trace amounts of lead were also found in some of the samples.

The government monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes is operated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The cannabis is grown on a 12-acre farm at the University of Mississippi.

NIDA responded that it’s the first time the agency has been notified of issues with mold or weak potency. NIDA also said it is increasing and diversifying marijuana production at Ole Miss in order to meet growing demand.

The good news is that last August, the DEA announced that it would end the NIDA’s monopoly by giving other bulk growers a license to do the same. This means scientists who want to study the effects of marijuana will have more choice in marijuana suppliers. 

However, the DEA has yet to approve any of the applications it’s received from marijuana growers so far, and hasn’t provided a timeline on when that will happen.

For some, it can’t happen soon enough. “[NIDA are] in no way capable of assuming the rights and responsibilities for handling a drug that we’re hoping to be approved by the FDA as prescription medicine,” said Rick Doblin, director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which is involved in the PTSD study. 

“[Sisley’s example] shows that NIDA is completely inadequate as a source of marijuana for drug development research,” he added.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr