Canada Becomes the Second Country in the World to Legalize Cannabis
On October 7th, 2018, Canada became the second country in the world to legalize cannabis for all uses.1 That monumental change in policy brought with it unprecedented changes to the world of cannabis science and research. Barriers to access and funding for cannabis research have significantly diminished in magnitude for our northern neighbors. As a result, Canadian researchers are making great strides in better understanding the cannabis plant and its role as a medicine.
Genetic Studies Reveal Stark Inconsistencies in Commercial Cannabis Labeling
Cannabis Sativa has been one of the most versatile botanical medicines with unparalleled diversity for millennia.2 The sheer complexity in terpene and cannabinoid ratios expressed by different varietals of cannabis are astounding and seemingly infinite. However, the current system for naming and characterizing cannabis is all but based in a plants true genetics and characteristics. In a study that used genetic testing to characterize 124 samples of cannabis, analysis revealed that “indica” and “sativa” subtype labeling rarely matched the plants’ DNA profiles and that different samples marketed under the same strain name (e.g. “White Widow” or “Blue Dream”) often turned out to have “wildly divergent genetics”.1,3
“You Can’t Put a Mackintosh Apple on the Shelf and Pretend it’s a Honeycrisp.”
Sean Myles, a population geneticist at Dalhousie University’s Agricultural Campus in Truro, Canada, was one of the scientists that conducted the genetic analysis of all 124 cannabis strains. He describes these inconsistencies as “absolutely unthinkable” and unheard of “in any other legitimate agricultural crop,”. Put simply, Myles states that “You can’t put a Mackintosh apple on the shelf and pretend it’s a Honeycrisp.”1
The Many Barriers to Cannabis Research in the United States
Cannabis research is extremely difficult to conduct in the United States due to its federally illegal status as a schedule I drug. There are limited suppliers that universities and research centers are permitted to purchase the plants from and difficult hurdles to surmount even beyond that. In the United States, researchers looking to conduct studies on cannabis or cannabinoids must seek approval from the following entities and regulatory bodies:
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
- Institutional review boards (IRB)
- Offices or departments in state government
- State boards of medical examiners
- Researcher’s home institution
- Potential funders.4
Looking Ahead and Learning From Our Neighbors
Canada will be in intriguing case study in nationwide cannabis legalization. However, their decision to do so is one rooted in logic and reason. It is this author’s opinion that the reasons to legalize cannabis are even greater in the United States, particularly due to it’s ability to help mitigate the opioid epidemic.5,6 Surely, Canadians will make strides in cannabis research at a much greater pace than ever before following legalization. Easier access to the plant as well as funding for research, both basic science and clinical, will allow for Canada to become pioneers in the future of cannabis science and medicine. One can only hope the United States will follow in their footsteps soon as well.
by Gaurav Dubey (M.S. Biotechnology),
Clinical Researcher Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery, Rush Medical Center,
Active Cannabis Blogger (The Medical Cannabis Community, Green Flower Media, Bloom, MCC)
Co-Founder & President Karmik, LLC
- Dolgin, E. What legal weed in Canada means for science. Nature 562, 327 (2018).
- Russo, E. B. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br. J. Pharmacol. 163, 1344–1364 (2011).
- Sawler, J. et al. The Genetic Structure of Marijuana and Hemp. PloS One 10, e0133292 (2015).
- Challenges and Barriers in Conducting Cannabis Research – The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids – NCBI Bookshelf. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425757/. (Accessed: 9th January 2019)
- Bradford, A. C., Bradford, W. D., Abraham, A. & Bagwell Adams, G. Association Between US State Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Prescribing in the Medicare Part D Population. JAMA Intern. Med. (2018). doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.0266
- Choo, E. K., Feldstein Ewing, S. W. & Lovejoy, T. I. Opioids Out, Cannabis In: Negotiating the Unknowns in Patient Care for Chronic Pain. Jama 316, 1763–1764 (2016).