The Cannabis Community: Speaking for Science

Maybe the DEA doesn’t get enough credit for their contributions to cannabis innovation. Certainly the restrictions they’ve put on research have played a huge role in how the plant is studied and consequently understood by both the scientific and mainstream communities. Because Put simply, if you want to learn about the effects and properties of medical cannabis in America the United States in 2016, you have to be either extremely patient, or extremely clever. Good thing Laurie Mischley is extremely clever.

Conducting a cannabis study has always been more complicated than simply convincing a University or private donor to fund a research project. Even after all the proposals have been written and the money secured, the real challenge of finding quality weed begins.

For close to 50 years the DEA has controlled all cannabis knowledge in America the United States.S. through the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research. They produce cannabis and its derivatives that can then be dispensed through the National Institute for Drug Abuse to qualifying studies. Up until August of 2016, this was the only way to obtain federally legal cannabis for research purposes. Getting necessary products was a paperwork ladend process of applying and waiting for approval, then waiting again for the delivery of materials, sometimes while funding ran out and interest waned. Recently, the DEA announced that though cannabis was to remain a Schedule I drug with no medical qualities, they would allow for other schools to begin a cultivation program. So far, the roll out has been slow.

Laurie Mischley, PhD, a research scientist at Seattle’s Bastyr University has long been skeptical about the public perception of the cannabis community and didn’t want to wait around for the government’s permission to start advancing the science. “In high school, I saw that cannabis users were running student council, making honor role, excelling at sports, etc.—, which was at odds with what authority figures were telling me happened to people who used drugs. I found it fascinating that society encourages alcohol use, a notably more harmful drug, but shames cannabis use.”

A scientist first,  (“Mmy agenda is pro-science, not pro-cannabis,”), Laurie is like all great answer seekers: she knows that sometimes it’s the rebels who need to speed up progress when it stagnates. “Timothy Leary turned me on to the idea that one could cause political disruption using scientifically sound methodology.” Instead of being patient, Laurie started the Cannabis Use Survey to not only collect much needed anecdotal data, but also provide a safe place for the community to speak.

“For close to 50 years the DEA has controlled all cannabis knowledge in the U.S. through the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research.”

Currently still seeking participants, The Cannabis Use Survey allows patients  to anonymously answer questions about their consumption habits and effects without fear of prosecution or stigmatization. The simple online form provides Laurie and other researchers the chance to hear directly from people who believe in the medical benefits of cannabis, and who can speak specifically about their own experiences, a vital first step in medical advancements:.

“Anecdotal reports are important in all research, not just cannabis research. Observation is the first step in the scientific method and we’re fools if we’re not listening to those with experience.”

By creating a forum for open discussion, Laurie gains insight into what people say is working, and she can begin the complicated task of understanding the why and the how. If they hear that a certain kind of edible forrom of cannabis is helping a patient treat their Parkinson’s disease, a study can be designed to see if those benefits can be replicated in other people. Still, even the most creative work-around is hampered by federal restrictions:.

“We wanted to randomize people to receiving banana bread with or without cannabis. Federal law prevented us from giving people Seattle-sourced cannabis, so I thought I was clever to invert the design: I’d enroll people who were already using cannabis, and randomize them to having it taken away for two2 weeks. Our Institutional Review Board (IRB) told me it was unethical to take away a medicine that was helping the patient! The Feds wouldn’t let me give cannabis, and the IRB wouldn’t let me take it away!

These limitations don’t exist in other parts of the world, and there is some hope that this will force the DEA and the federal government to make cannabis more accessible for research purposes:.

Soon enough, other countries will start making discoveries and developing pharmaceutical products ahead of the United States, while U.S.- based researchers try to move the science forward with their hands tied. Eventually, the tide will turn and the United States will end Pprohibition and cannabis will be re/de-scheduled.” 

It’s vital that the medical cannabis community be heard as our understanding of the science behind the plant evolves. Laurie Mischley, through the Cannabis Use Survey, hopes to present those with the most personal knowledge of the benefits of that science the chance tell a part of their story.

“The purpose of this study is to give those who use cannabis a voice.”

It’s not too late to add to that growing voice by being a part of the Cannabis Use Survey. The DEA will never know it was you.

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