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2021 Was a Record Year For Cannabis Research, Review Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Dec 06, 2021   
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More cannabis studies were published in 2021 than were published in any other year, according to a review from NORML, a non-profit that advocates for cannabis legalization.

After conducting an online search through the US National Library of Medicine/PubMed.gov, the NORML team found that more than 3,800 scientific papers had been published on the topic of cannabis in the first eleven months of this year – a new record high.

A blooming research field

It’s estimated that 3,500 cannabis-science papers were published in peer-reviewed journals in 2020.

Since 2010, scientists have published an estimated 27,000 peer-reviewed papers specific to cannabis, according to the NORML team. By comparison, it’s thought that there were fewer than 3,000 total papers about marijuana published in the 1990s, and fewer than 2,000 total papers published during the 1980s.

“Despite claims by some that marijuana has yet to be subject to adequate scientific scrutiny, scientists’ interest in studying cannabis has increased exponentially in recent years, as has our understanding of the plant, its active constituents, their mechanisms of action, and their effects on both the user and upon society,” NORML’s deputy director Paul Armentano said in a statement.

“It is time for politicians and others to stop assessing cannabis through the lens of ‘what we don’t know’ and instead start engaging in evidence-based discussions about marijuana and marijuana reform policies that are indicative of all that we do know.”

Researching cannabis directly can still be an ordeal for many US scientists. Those who plan to conduct clinical trials using cannabis must currently go through a lengthy process of seeking separate approvals for their project from both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

This can take a year or more to complete. And even when approval is secured, researchers can only access cannabis grown from one single government-authorized farm at the University of Mississippi, a source that has been previously criticized for its poor product quality and its inability to reflect the types of product currently available on the market.

“Even if we do follow the rules that are prescribed by the government and we use the only federally-regulated source for the plant, we’re actually still not studying the exact material that is being sold by state dispensaries and that is being attributed to reported health benefits,” Dr Joshua Levy, an assistant professor of otolaryngology and director of resident research at Emory University’s Department of Otolaryngology, told Analytical Cannabis last year.

“I am not aware of any compound in the history of drug development that is so widely used for medicinal purposes, yet still regulated [in this way]. I think the need and the market will, in its own right, push for reform,” he said.


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