Last week, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) unveiled an extensive list of cannabis-related research priorities. Traditionally, this organization has funded research aimed at uncovering risks, harms, and other negative outcomes of cannabis use, but this year, the agency has broadened its scope significantly.
“A growing number of states have loosened restrictions on cannabis, including those on sales and use, by passing medical marijuana laws or by making cannabis legal for adult recreational use, and in some cases, states have done both,” NIDA wrote, according to Marijuana Moment. The agency added that this rapid evolution of cannabis reform is “far outpacing the knowledge needed to determine and minimize the public health impacts of these changes.”
To catch up with the times, NIDA has listed 13 major research objectives that it hopes will provide a solid base of knowledge for lawmakers to draw upon when drafting new weed laws and regulations. Many of these objectives are still focused on potential risks, including the possible risks of maternal pot use on fetal development, the prevalence of traffic accidents caused by stoned drivers, and the potential outcomes of using pot along with other drugs like opioids or alcohol.
The government is also expanding its focus to investigate the medical uses of cannabis. The agency hopes to develop measurement standards for both marijuana and hemp that could help identify an effective medical dose or a level of impairment or intoxication. Researchers will also dig deep into the composition and potency of the different kinds of products currently available on the market and how they might impact physical or mental health.
NIDA also intends to study the states that have legalized medical or recreational pot, exploring how each state's unique cannabis regulations work to minimize public health risks. The cannabis industry itself will also be a subject of research, as NIDA will attempt to determine how marketing, taxes, and prices can impact the health of cannabis users across the country. The agency also hopes to create a working roadside test that can tell if a driver is too stoned to drive safely.
While the US government is finally getting around to launching a robust study into the world of weed, the Canadian government is finding itself swamped by hundreds of applications from scientists eager to study cannabis. Health Canada, the government agency that has been tasked with approving applications for cannabis research, has so far been struggling to approve them in a timely fashion.
“Everybody is growing, consuming, and buying it, but the labs are still: ‘How do we get these projects going?’” said Jonathan Page, chief science officer for Aurora Cannabis, to Science. “The [licensing] system is swamped, and research is not exactly, I think, a priority.”
Health Canada has recently appointed 140 employees to handle the 251 cannabis research applications it has received since late July. The agency is finally making headway with these applications, approving 45 of them over the last month, and expects the weekly number of approved applications to grow in the immediate future.
“I feel for Health Canada,” said Michael Dixon of the University of Guelph to Science. “They have been handed an almost impossible chore.”