US Marijuana Research Skews Negative, Says New Report

By Paul Gaita 01/19/17

A new report alleges that the National Institute on Drug Abuse may be purposefully hampering marijuana research.

Female scientist examining marijuana.

According to a new report, American scientific research into the potential health benefits of cannabis is biased towards providing negative results due to the influence of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). That's among the key findings in an extensive and comprehensive review of cannabis studies conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The private non-profit organization, comprised of representatives from universities around the globe, reviewed more than 10,000 cannabis-related studies published since 1999 to create what is described as one of the most comprehensive reports to date on cannabis research.

In the report, the researchers allege that the NIDA—a federal research institute and part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services's National Institutes of Health—has hampered marijuana research by approving fewer studies that concern the "therapeutic properties of cannabinoids."

The study authors say that 80% of approved research in 2015 skewed negative, while only 20% examined the health benefits of marijuana use. "In the United States, cannabis for research purposes is only available through the NIDA Drug Supply Program," the report states. "The mission of NIDA is to 'advance science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction and to apply that knowledge to improve individual and public health,' rather than to pursue or support research into the potential therapeutic uses of cannabis or any other drugs." 

The report also highlighted other potential roadblocks to unbiased research into cannabis. For a period of nearly five decades, 1968 to 2016, the study authors note that researchers could only use cannabis grown at the University of Mississippi for their studies, which meant that they were unable to make any sort of determination about marijuana produced in states where it was legal for medicinal and/or recreational purposes. Furthermore, the cannabis produced at the University of Mississippi was often frozen after being harvested years earlier, which could impact the quality of the cannabis. 

The study findings suggest a nullifying impact on all cannabis research for the past three decades—including the findings included in the National Academies' own report. Given their assessment of skewed and compromised studies, it may be difficult to concur with their own positive findings regarding the medical benefits of marijuana, which include the use of oral cannabinoids to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea in cancer patients, muscle stiffness and spasms in individuals with multiple sclerosis, and a variety of sleep impairments. 

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.