Cannabis: Where is the Research?

April 9, 2019

 

By Jeff G. Konin, PhD, ATC, PT, FACSM, FNATA

There has been a lot of buzz around the topic cannabis in the United States. Medical marijuana is now legal in some 33 states, recreational marijuana is becoming legal in some states, and both hemp and cannabidiol (forms of the cannabis genus plant) are more available to consumers. One question that frequently is asked is: “where is the research?” In particular, healthcare providers want to know where the evidence is to support the use of the medicinal use of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). This is a fair question, and it deserves answers.

In order to address this question, one first needs to understand that marijuana is classified by the federal government as a Schedule 1 Drug. What this means is that a drug has a high potential for physical and psychological dependence and a high risk for addiction or abuse. Other drugs that are recognized as Schedule 1 are heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. As a result, researchers have not been able to receive federal government approval to test the drug on human subjects. Why then is the anecdotal evidence so strong and the push for legalization? Simply put, patients have not waited for evidence-based randomly controlled trials, and instead on their own have experimented with various forms of cannabis in efforts to relive their acute and chronic ailments. For quite some time, this was all accomplished illegally, not at all knowing what was truly in the black market forms of cannabis that was being purchased. In truth, this still occurs today, even where legalization of cannabis has occurred.

Example of where evidence does exist is seen in the management of childhood epilepsy. Conditions known as Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome are successfully treated with orally administered “epidiolex”, a cannabidiol drug that has been reclassified as a Schedule 5 drug.

The key to further research is to reclassify the status of marijuana so that it can be studied, and not only for healthcare benefits. Ironically, cannabis with THC is reported to have a 9% rate of addiction – this is lower than chocolate! What we are talking about is a plant that has various components that can be teased out for different purposes. In fact the hemp portion of the plant is already being used for clothing, fuel, paper, and plastic. The THC & CBD components may or may not have a proven effect on the patients seeking relief. After all, cannabinoids found in the body are similar to those found in the cannabis plant, as well as can be found in some commonly purchased items. For example, black pepper, cloves, rosemary, ginger, peppermint, mango, and thyme are edibles that contain cannabis. These have been purported by some to have anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and other potential effects. We won’t know the true answers to the capability of cannabis until we are able to perform quality studies. Until then, we must rely on result reported by patients who are convinced of the benefits that they are receiving first-hand.

 

Dr. Jeff G. Konin is the Vice President for Global Education and Research at AIB in Largo, Florida and President of Konin Consulting, LLC in Clearwater Florida.  He is a frequent speaker on various topics related to cannabis.for healthcare providers, student-athletes, educators, and administrators. He can be reached at [email protected].