At this crucial time for cannabis policy and national standing, a subcommittee of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine has released a pre-publication entitled, “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research.” The National Academy of Sciences, a revered institution, was established by President Lincoln in 1863 and expanded in 1964 and 1970 to include engineering and medicine, respectively to work cohesively as a private, nongovernmental institution to provide advice to the public on issues related to science and technology.
The Academies’ pre-publication, released this week, was in response to the surge of states embracing both medical and/or retail cannabis and the clear need to detail what is known and what is unknown about the health effects of cannabis use. The committee assigned to this task were also asked to make recommendations for a research agenda to address key unanswered questions to which they listed 100 different research conclusions. The committee reviewed more than 24,000 abstracts identified as relevant to this review focusing on specific health topics including; therapeutic effects, cancer, cardiometabolic risk, respiratory disease, immunity, injury and death, pregnancy, psychosocial, mental health and cannabis use disorder. The evidence evaluated which excluded all in vitro and animal-based studies, was categorized into listings of conclusive evidence, substantial evidence, moderate evidence, limited evidence, or insufficient evidence.
The number one recommendation from the report was to create a national cannabis research fund to address key gaps in the evidence base on both short and long-term human health effects of cannabis use. The goal being to include clinical and observational research, health policy and health economics research, public health and safety research. The second and third recommendations are to promote higher quality research standards and to improve federal and state public health surveillance capacity, specifically calling for the establishment and use of state-based testing facilities to analyze chemical compositions of cannabis and cannabis-based products and development of novel diagnostic technologies to rapidly and accurately assess cannabis exposure and impairment. The fourth recommendation is to eliminate barriers to research by lowering the bar to conduct cannabis research but also improving access to research-grade cannabis.
The findings of the Committee were extensive and too numerous to list here; but, just to present a few of the committee’s findings, there was conclusive evidence found for the treatment of chronic pain, as an anti-emetic for cancer patients and as an anti-spasmodic for multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. Additionally, they found moderate evidence for improving sleep disturbances associated with fibromyalgia, chronic pain and MS and limited evidence as an appetite stimulator for HIV/AIDS patients and improving spasticity associated with Tourette syndrome and ameliorating social anxiety disorders as well as PTSD. There was inconclusive evidence found for improvement of dementia or intraocular pressure associated with glaucoma and inconclusive evidence to make any inferences concerning cancers, irritable bowel syndrome or epilepsy or mental health outcomes for schizophrenia. The report does associate cannabis use and increased risk of motor vehicular accidents but not sufficient evidence to associate cannabis use with death. And a clear indication that pregnant women should avoid cannabis use as it could lead to low birth weight and other complications at birth.
The National Academies’ prestigious report comes at a formative time and should be used to leverage the case for the continued decriminalization of marijuana at the Federal level and to substantiate the argument with Congress for action to change the Federal stance on marijuana in a timely fashion with the confirmation of a new group of politicians in Washington DC.
Written By Cindy Orser, PhD, Chief Science Officer of Digipath Labs