As the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers a change to Marijuana's schedule 1 classification, some university scientists and doctors in Colorado are looking forward to the potential research opportunities.
Marijuana is a controlled substance, categorized by the DEA in the same light as both LSD and heroin. However, the drug agency recently stated it would consider dropping weed from the most dangerous drugs list by July.
While marijuana is legal in Colorado for medical and recreational use, state-represented universities still can't conduct research on marijuana plants or products unless given permission by the DEA.
At the CU Boulder Change Lab, Dr. Kent Hutchison has been doing research on marijuana for years, albeit indirectly.
"In Colorado, every month the state regulates the cultivation of 600,000 marijuana plants. The state regulates the sale of over 600,000 edible units and over 25,000 pounds of marijuana flower," said Dr. Hutchison. "The state can do all that, but scientists that are supported by the state universities can't do any of the research on any of the products that are made in Colorado."
Hutchison did obtain permission from the DEA to do a study in 2007, a process he said was lengthy. During his research, he was allowed to administer marijuana cigarettes to test participants in order to test the effect on a subject's memory. However, Hutchison believes the study had no real life application, because the marijuana sent was relatively weak, grown on a government-owned farm in Mississippi.
"...Because the marijuana in Colorado has close to 18% potency. Where as the marijuana from NIDA [National Institute on Drug Abuse] was more like 3 percent. So, basically like 6 times more potent in Colorado," said Hutchison. "The problem with that of course is you're doing this research and then it doesn't reflect anything that happens in the real world, because no one is using government grown marijuana from Mississippi."
Also, participants had to smoke a whole gram in five minutes to equate to the same amount of marijuana in the blood compared to what most marijuana smokers in Colorado intake in a few puffs. Hutchison said without the ability to use marijuana created in Colorado, he can never create data applicable to the real world.
"There's no data to help people make decisions. One of the reasons there is no data is because we can't do the research to provide the data for people to make a decision about what to use and what not to use," said Hutchison.
Also, there's not a body of knowledge in regards to all of the products consumers find in dispensaries. Since state researchers can only study consumers and not direct them on when or how much marijuana to intake, they can't study whether or not particular products are harmful or beneficial to the human body. Hutchison said the results for parents of epileptic children who come to Colorado for CBD treatments are promising, but there's no way for them to definitively say why those products seem to be working.
"That's what we need. Someone to tell the universities that they won't get in trouble if they're allowed to do the research."