The Challenges of Cannabis Research; Program Gets Halted in Pennsylvania

Observational Research Versus Rigorous Clinical Trials, What Does the Cannabis Community Need

The discussion about desperately needed cannabis research is getting tiring. The Schedule 1 status of cannabis has made the most professional and experienced scientists in the country wary of even touching the plant in fear of arrest and having their federal funding pulled. In the meantime, as the marijuana legalization movement continues its slow move forward, businesses are trying to figure out how they can best capitalize on this demand for research.

Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf recently signed off on Penn’s medical school making them one of the eight higher education institutions to be a part of Pennsylvania’s new initiative to research cannabis, but a judge halted the program entirely on May 22nd. It is not the Schedule 1 status of cannabis halting the program but instead a lawsuit by cannabis producers that are vying to provide marijuana to the schools that would be performing the research. The producers would be able to dispense the cannabis to more than just the schools they have contracted with for research purposes. The new initiative gives cannabis producers that otherwise have struggled getting a permit to grow, a back door way of entering the market.

Judith Cassel is the lawyer representing the groups suing the state and had this to say on the matter.

“They created these super-permits that are just big commercial entities that haven’t gone through the vetting process that are going to be automatically rubber-stamped and put into action to sell in the commercial market,” Cassel said. “It isn’t what the act intended.”

PalliaTech, for example, was eliminated in the first round of applications for grower permits in Pennsylvania last year and placed 105th in a group of 164 applicants. Under this program, however, PalliaTech would still be permitted to conduct medical marijuana research despite its placement.

The other issue is that ultimately the research that would be conducted as a result of Pennsylvania’s initiative would mostly be observational. In other words, polls will be taken and testimonials given from consumers about how they use cannabis and what benefits or negative effects they may feel. While this sort of research is important, it is not the under the microscope thorough breakdown of the plant that most people would like to see but also would be much more expensive.

“It sounds like the engagement between Penn and those growers/dispensers within Pennsylvania is going to lead to research that is primarily observational in nature,” said Penn Medicine Psychology Professor Marcel Bonn-Miller. “That research is important but it’s also limiting, meaning what’s really needed in the field of cannabinoid research is clinical trials.”

Assuming that someday cannabis is descheduled and the door is open for lab coat scientists to get their hands on this incredibly complex plant that has shown the ability to stop seizures and to serve as an anti-inflammatory, do not expect the accepted data and results to be forthcoming anytime soon. Research companies are always battling in court for the rights to do exclusive research. In the end this is all about money.


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Richard Lowe

Richard Lowe is a 14-year veteran of the financial sector with licenses as a commodity broker (Series 3) and investment advisor representative (IAR Series 65). Along with a focus on raising capital for the firms he was employed with, he also wrote and edited much of the content published by them. He holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts. He has been a longtime advocate for marijuana legalization due to the social injustices associated with marijuana prohibition and the strong potential for the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

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