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Feds to grow stronger, better marijuana for research

By Oscar Pascual |

While medical and recreational marijuana programs continue to flourish in states across the U.S., cannabis research remains stagnant in America. A recent decision from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) aims to change that.

NIDA is the only source of cannabis approved for scientific study in the United States. But NIDA’s weed is nothing like what you’d find in even a mediocre dispensary: The agency has received a long list of complaints from researchers in regards to the low-quality marijuana NIDA provides for studies.

But now that medical and recreational marijuana has become more prevalent, Nature reports that NIDA is currently working to expand the amount and variety of the plant available for studies.

“We want to be able to evaluate the claims that marijuana is therapeutically beneficial,” Nora Volkow, director of NIDA in Rockville, Maryland, told Nature.

The institute already increased its budget for growing pot to research by 50 percent in 2014. All of the agency’s supplies are grown at the University of Mississippi, which increased their production last year from about 40 pounds to more than 1,300 pounds.

The university also started growing two new strains for researchers: one with high levels of the therapeutic compound cannabidiol (CBD), and one with equal amounts of CBD and pot’s main psychoactive compound, THC.

While NIDA’s effort to expand cannabis research is commendable, it still falls short of what’s needed. The agency’s strongest pot available to scientists tops out at a mere 12 percent. In comparison, most cannabis sold at medical dispensaries can often reach levels of 20 percent and higher.

If that weren’t enough, NIDA’s lengthy application process means it could take years before researchers even gain approval for studies. That, compounded with the expensive price of roughly $7 per joint for low-grade pot, makes marijuana research in America an unappealing slog.

NIDA’s current grasp on cannabis research suggests that successful breakthroughs with marijuana will most likely occur outside of the U.S., where the UK’s GW Pharmaceuticals is patenting brain cancer medications with high concentrations of THC and CBD, and Israeli medical marijuana research is outpacing the U.S. at an immense rate.

The institute’s monopoly on U.S. pot research could be coming to an end, however. A recent bipartisan bill introduced to the Senate would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II or III drug, thereby lifting all current restrictions on its studies and allowing federal funding of research.

Photo credit: Medical Xpress