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Psychologists Group Slams Barriers To Marijuana Research

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The U.S.’s largest organization of psychology professionals is urging the federal government to stop making it so hard for researchers to study marijuana.

“Major barriers to research are preventing scientists from pursuing the full range of research that is needed to understand the impacts of recreational and therapeutic use of cannabinoids,” the American Psychological Association (APA) said in a recent advocacy briefing. “Marijuana and its constituent compounds are categorized as Schedule I (having no Food and Drug Administration-approved therapeutic use), and all research conducted with marijuana requires that investigators register with the DEA.”

APA, which represents more than 115,000 scientists, clinicians and educators, pointed out that the process to register to study cannabis “can take more than a year to complete and creates administrative burdens that serve as significant disincentives to pursuing research” and that Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) oversight “involves redundant scientific protocol review.”

The Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule I — the most restrictive category — is supposed to be reserved for drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. Researchers have long complained that marijuana’s classification there creates additional hurdles that don’t exist for studies on other substances.

Heroin and LSD are also in Schedule I alongside cannabis, yet cocaine and methamphetamine are classified in the less-restrictive Schedule II category.

While APA isn’t calling for changes to marijuana’s criminal penalties, its criticism of the roadblocks to marijuana research created by the drug’s current federal classification adds to a growing consensus that something needs to change.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee called on federal agencies last month to prepare a report on the ways Schedule I limits cannabis research.

Also last month, California lawmakers passed a joint resolution calling for federal marijuana rescheduling.

APA, in its advocacy briefing, pointed out that DEA’s role in the marijuana research process creates unnecessary confusion.

“Investigators often report that the guidance they receive is unclear and that DEA inspections, security requirements and variable experiences with state DEA field offices add to the obstacles they face,” the organization said.

The organization, working in a coalition with other groups — including leading prohibitionist outfit Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) — is supporting a new bipartisan Senate bill to remove some of the barriers to cannabis research.

That legislation was filed last month by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and an initial list of four cosponsors. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) added her name to the bill on Monday.

“By creating an exception for marijuana from the current obstacles of Schedule I registration and review procedures, the bill provides a sensible streamlined approach for the review of applications and granting of registrations to conduct research with marijuana,” APA, SAM and other groups including the American Pain Society, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine wrote in their sign-on letter.

Photo courtesy of Interiorrain.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Science & Health

Feds Call For Even More Marijuana Research After Hosting Cannabis Workshop

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Federally funded research into marijuana seems to be escalating, with one government agency recently posting a roundup of current “cannabinoid-related funding opportunities” for studies investigating the plant’s therapeutic potential.

On Saturday, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) shared a list of four research grant opportunities for studies on “natural products” like cannabis. One would examine how cannabinoids other than THC affect pain and three others call for more broad clinical trials of natural products involving human participants.

The list appears to have been prepared as part of an NCCIH-hosted workshop last week that explored “how to conduct research within the current regulatory framework”—an event that was explicitly not about “challenging or changing current federal laws, policies or regulations.”

NCCIH “supports rigorous scientific investigation of natural products such as the cannabis plant and its components (e.g., cannabinoids and terpenes),” the agency wrote.

The goals of the proposed research projects range from identifying the “biological signature” of natural products, which means discovering a replicable biological effect, to determining the best dose and optimal formulation of these products. Researchers interested in taking on the investigations have to submit applications with comprehensive plans for the trials and also obtain clearance from federal agencies charged with regulating controlled substances such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Interestingly, three out of four of the studies highlighted by NCCIH don’t explicitly mention marijuana or cannabinoids; rather, they more broadly cover natural products, which seems to suggest that the agency aims to increase cannabis research through pre-existing funding channels.

While the federal government has historically funded limited studies into marijuana and its components, researchers have struggled to overcome barriers to research that exist for federally banned substances. As more states have legalized cannabis, though, agencies like the NCCIH have started ramping up their calls for research.

At the same time, the DEA has said that it’s streamlining applications for federally-sanctioned marijuana cultivators in order to meet the growing demand for research-grade cannabis products. It authorized 5,400 pounds of cannabis to be grown in 2019—more than five times the amount authorized for this year. The reason for the scaling up is “based solely on increased usage projections for federally approved research projects,” the agency clarified in a Federal Register notice on Monday.

Feds Seek New Growers To Produce Thousands Of Kilograms Of Marijuana

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Smoking Marijuana Actually Improves Working Memory, Study Indicates

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A new study contains a finding that runs counter to common stereotypes about marijuana and forgetful stoners: smoking cannabis actually seems to improve working memory.

Researchers at the University of Florida acknowledged that their study, which involved rats and was published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning Memory, was unique. Much previous research has concluded that cannabis impairs cognitive performance. But the same time, many of those studies didn’t involve actually inhaling marijuana smoke like this one did.

The team put the 32 rats (split evenly by gender) through a pair of delayed response tasks that involved either finding and pressing a lever a certain amount of times or poking their nose into a feeding trough a certain amount of times—the reward being food pellets, of course. The first few times, the rats were sober; in subsequent experiments, they were exposed to cannabis smoke.

“Cannabis smoke improved working memory accuracy. Placebo smoke did not affect working memory accuracy.”

For male rats, the marijuana didn’t seem to have any effect at all, but for female rats “exposure to cannabis smoke significantly enhanced choice accuracy,” the researchers wrote. That said, baseline performances (prior to exposure) were lower in females compared to males, which “raises the possibility that the enhancing effects in females were due to their relatively worse baseline performance rather than to sex differences in the effects of cannabis per se.”

“The overwhelming majority of research in both animal models and human subjects shows that acute administration of cannabis and cannabinoids induces deficits in tests of cognitive function, including working memory. In contrast, the current experiments show that acute exposure to cannabis smoke enhanced working memory performance in a delayed response task in rats, particularly in females in which baseline levels of task performance were lower than those in males.”

Vaporized Marijuana Produces A Stronger High Than Smoking It, Study Finds

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Nearby Marijuana Shops Make Homes And Rentals More Valuable, Studies Show

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When a shop selling marijuana opens (or closes), there’s a direct impact on housing and rental prices in the surrounding area, according to a pair of recent studies.

Housing prices for new homes increase by 7.7 percent on average if they’re located within a quarter mile of a new dispensary.

A study published in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy evaluated how the price of new homes in Denver, Colorado, changes when a cannabis dispensary opens up nearby. Researchers compared the prices of homes before and after a dispensary opened within .25 miles, .25-.5 miles and .5-.75 miles.

Contemporary Economic Policy

When new dispensaries opened within .25 miles, housing prices jumped 7.7 percent on average. There was still a 4.7 percent increase for homes located within .5 miles, but the effect “disappears entirely” for houses that are further than .5 miles from a new dispensary. The researchers also found that the effect was slightly more pronounced if the dispensary was the first to the area.

“Our results suggest that despite potential costs, legalization is capitalized as a net benefit in housing prices,” the researchers wrote.

Interestingly, new dispensaries seem to have about the same impact on housing prices as new grocery stores, the study found. But the “mechanisms through which grocery stores affect housing prices are more obvious than dispensaries.”

“If public sentiment surrounding marijuana is positive, homebuyers may also prefer to select into neighborhoods with more dispensaries for convenience. Ultimately however, our data do not allow us to directly determine the underlying mechanisms driving this result, so these potential explanations should be considered speculative.”

Losing a marijuana coffeeshop causes a three percent decrease in Airbnb rental prices.

Amsterdam’s famous cannabis coffeeshops are known tourist attractions, but what happens when one shuts down? For his master’s dissertation, doctoral student Igor Goncalves Koehne de Castro identified at least one collateral effect: Rental costs on Airbnb drop by about three percent on average if the closure was within 250 meters of the lodging.

If the coffeeshop was further than 250 meters, rental prices didn’t change significantly.

Via USP Digital Library.

There were plenty of examples for de Castro to study, which spanned from 2014 to 2017, because several coffeeshops have closed in response to new laws in recent years, including one in Amsterdam that prohibits the shops from operating within 250 meters of a school.

After controlling for other possible factors, de Castro developed a series of models based on Airbnb data on rental prices over time and their proximity to recently closed coffeeshops. The study revealed that these shops “present a positive impact” on rental prices for lodgings close to the shops—presumably because people who rent through Airbnb are “tourists” who are “sensitive to distances.”

“The findings of this study suggest that, for the city of Amsterdam, the de facto legalization of cannabis actually has a positive externality,” de Castro wrote. “This result puts new evidence to the debate of drug laws and policies, a matter that still lacks data and research.”

Marijuana Dispensaries Reduce Local Opioid Overdose Rates, Study Finds

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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