In my two decades in the hemp and cannabis industry, I’ve been asked one question again and again: How do we prove the effectiveness of cannabis? Two opinions form my answer to this question:
1. From coffee to cannabis, effectiveness is personal.
Checking the effectiveness of a substance on a personal level can be anecdotal and subjective. Was that cup of coffee effective for you this morning? Do you need a clinical study to check its effectiveness? Why do some people rely on coffee for its energizing effects, while others claim it increases their anxiety? And why do some people stay away from caffeine? The answer is simple: effectiveness is personal. Substances affect people differently, and the only way to find out what works for a person is through trial and error.
However, when we talk about the pharmacological verification of the effectiveness of drugs, we need to focus on a set of statistical information that meets defined criteria and the maximum responses we can get with this compound. A compound could be extremely “successful” and its effects could be verified by thousands of people personally – and yet be clinically ineffective on a broader pharmacological or pharmaceutical level due to missing parameters or statistical insignificance.
This is both the curse and the backbone of validation of substances, compounds, etc., as legislative action and general clinical acceptance are based on pharmacological validation. Validation is arduous, and in the natural products industry, this high bar can block access to compounds that are widely beneficial simply because there isn’t “right” evidence.
Cannabis is a perfect example of the challenges of validating or verifying effectiveness. It wasn’t until 2019 that the journal Science Advances1 published the work of Chinese researchers who used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to analyze the materials extracted from braziers at ceremonial ritual sites dating from around 500 BC. Were excavated. They found traces of cannabinoids and evidence that cannabis plants were burned as part of the ceremony.
It seems that even then people thought the plant was effective. Today, modern analytical science is used to confirm the widespread use of this plant throughout human history for its myriad of potent substances. And yet the plant has been illegal for many years in most parts of the world by then. Ironically, the cannabis ban is based on potency – that it can get you high!
When checking effectiveness on a personal level, there is one more variable: personal taste. Let’s go back to coffee, for example: Why do some people prefer their coffee black, while others prefer cream and sugar? Is one form more effective than the other? The material effects are probably indistinguishable, but the variable is taste. Some may want the effects of caffeine but loathe the taste of coffee, so they are turning to alternative delivery methods like teas, energy drinks, or capsules. If you cannot tolerate the method of administration of a substance, the substance will no longer be personally effective. It’s similar with cannabis. Why do some people prefer chewing gum over tinctures when the concentrations are the same? Product taste and user experience are important factors that contribute to personal effectiveness.
2. More collaborative research is needed.
Anecdotally, hundreds of thousands of people have confirmed the effectiveness of cannabis for pain or anxiety or other medical conditions. Of course, just because effectiveness is personal does not mean that we forego testing cannabis as a therapeutic agent or drug. Molecules from the plant have already been statistically validated by GW Pharmaceuticals for its cannabis drug Epidiolex, and thanks to changing perceptions of cannabis and increasing public demand for access to cannabis, the available research on pharmacological effectiveness is growing year on year.
The truth is that a greater percentage of study funding goes to research into demonstrating the side effects of cannabis and its molecules than cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are used to demonstrate its therapeutic effects. Yet despite all odds, the majority of cannabis research available shows the general safety and the need for more extensive cannabis research to validate its therapeutic benefits.
For years, political and scientific journals have pointed to significant barriers to research into cannabis, both due to lack of funding and institutional barriers that make the process so difficult that only extremely dedicated researchers would bother. Nutt et al. (2013) 2 and National Academies Press (207) 3 came to the same conclusion: Researchers who wanted to study cannabis were faced with extraordinary obstacles and factors. They summarized that “the essential layers of bureaucracy resulting from the categorization of cannabis in Appendix I” [are] reports preventing a number of cannabis researchers from applying for grants or undertaking additional research efforts. ”
Progress is also constrained by the chicken and egg dilemma put forward by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for years that more research is needed to make policy changes while proactively restricting access to cannabis for research will (and influence regulators to keep them). applicable guidelines). Coupled with a bottleneck in the only available input to research coming from a University of Mississippi facility, progress is severely hampered.
These setbacks have slowed pharmacological research and are a direct factor in why the United States lags significantly behind its cannabis research when compared to its competitors in other countries like Israel. Just think: two-thirds of the US population live in jurisdictions where cannabis is in some way legalized and where consumers can access it – with the number increasing every year – yet scientific researchers can only get access to it from one location in the United States access cannabis and with significant obstacles. It’s crazy and it has to change.
The issues outlined above continue to limit larger clinical trials and the type of research that is required to further validate cannabis and its derivatives for safety and efficacy. In order to gain a full understanding of cannabis and its molecules and to successfully prove its effectiveness, greater collaboration between industry and its regulators is required.
The company, which values its relationship with its consumers, will educate them about its products and encourage them to find the product that is most effective for them, keeping in mind that effectiveness is personal. The company, which values the industry’s long-term success, will invest in working with researchers, advocacy groups and regulators. Businesses need to be able to rely on the quality and safety of the products they bring to market and convey this to consumers in the interest of the entire industry.
As Senior Vice President of Global Business Development, Matt Storey leads NuSachi’s sales and business development teams and provides strategic insights to the product development and operations teams.
- RenM et al. “The Origins of Cannabis Smoking: Evidence of Chemical Residues from the First Millennium BC. In the Pamirs. ”Scientific advances. Published online June 12, 2019.
- Nutt DJ et al. “Effects of List I Drug Laws on Neuroscience Research and Treatment Innovation.” Nature Reviews. Neuroscience. Published online June 12, 2013.
- National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.