Book:Past, Present, and Future of Cannabis Laboratory Testing and Regulation in the United States/Overview of the cannabis industry in the United States/Testing and research

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1.4 Testing and research

Marihuana Test.jpg

One area that continues to expand—while taking advantage of new scientific research and techniques—is the laboratory sphere, particularly in research, regulation, and standardization activities. According to July 2016 testimony from Susan R.B. Weiss, Division Director at NIDA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) alone supported 281 cannabinoid research projects totaling more than $111 million in 2015.[1] By the end of 2021, that number had risen to $198 million.[2]

While the research, analysis, and processing of cannabis has been ongoing for centuries[3], it wasn't until 1896 that Wood et al. conducted one of the first documented chemical experiments to determine the constituents of cannabis. Several years later, the researchers were able to correctly identify the extracted and isolated cannabinol from the exuded resin of Indian hemp as C21H26O2.[4] As of mid-2018, somewhere between 104 upwards to more than 140 of the more than 750 constituents of Cannabis sativa have been identified as cannabinoids[5][6][7], "a class of diverse chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors in cells that modulate neurotransmitter release in the brain."[8]

Yet in the United States, when it comes to 1. enacting the broad level of testing required to ensure public safety—whether it be medical, recreational, or industrial use of cannabis—and 2. researching and better understanding the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics (medical use and benefit) of cannabinoids in the human population, many have argued that laboratory testing of cannabis is still in its infancy[9][10][11][12][13][14] and evidence-based research of marijuana continues to be slow and bogged down in regulation.[15][16][1][17][18] In regards to the first issue, as some form of legalization continues to sweep across states, regulators, users, and industry are recognizing the need for improved standardization of the production and testing of medical and recreational marijuana; the current state of improper labeling and potentially harmful contaminants[9][10][11][14] will only serve to hinder the industry. To the second issue, in 2016, some within the federal government seemed to recognize the roadblocks to improved evidence-based research and began working to slowly improve how researchers can legally acquire and test marijuana in the U.S.[1][17][19] Those attempts were largely rebuffed by the Justice Department, however.[20][21]

Regardless, an excerpt from the previously mentioned testimony of NIDA's Dr. Weiss illustrates the sentiment still felt by many researchers today[1]:

The current state of the research on marijuana and its constituent cannabinoids suggests the potential for therapeutic value for a number of conditions; however, more evidence is needed before marijuana or cannabinoid products (beyond those already approved through the FDA) are ready for medical use. Promising preclinical findings do not always prove to be clinically relevant, and even fewer lead to new treatments. Moreover, clinical studies of sufficient quality to meet FDA standards for drug approval are currently lacking for most conditions. Among the factors that impact this research are the specific statutory requirements and treaty obligations that govern research on marijuana. NIH is working closely with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and FDA to explore ways to streamline these processes to facilitate research.

In the meantime, government entities such as the NIH and non-profits such as jCanna have continued to push forward with scientific conferences, summits, and roundtables that bring scientists and interested parties together to share existing knowledge and testing techniques.[22][23] Some U.S. lawmakers have since further discussed the issue of cannabis research; an official hearing scheduled for January 2020 provided an opportunity to further highlight to Congress the "catch-22" of regulation and medical research: "Research is restricted because cannabis is currently considered a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, yet more research would better determine if marijuana should be rescheduled or descheduled."[24]

Encouragingly, the DEA finalized its amended "21 Code of Federal Regulations 1318 to facilitate the cultivation of marihuana for research purpose and other licit purposes to ensure compliance with the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and treaty obligations" in December 2020[25] This added an additional five grow-ops to support researchers[25][26], though the impact of this change on research organizations is unclear at this early juncture.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Weiss, S.R.B. (13 July 2016). "Testimony from Susan R.B. Weiss, Ph.D. on The State of the Science on the Therapeutic Potential of Marijuana and Cannabinoids before Judiciary Committee". ASL Testimony. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Archived from the original on 04 May 2017. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  2. "Estimates of Funding for Various Research, Condition, and Disease Categories (RCDC)". RePORT. National Institutes of Health. 16 May 2022. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  3. Deitch, R. (2003). Hemp – American History Revisited. New York City: Algora Publishing. pp. 232. ISBN 9780875862262. 
  4. Wood, T.B.; Newton Spivey, W.T.; Easterfield, T.H. (1899). "III.—Cannabinol. Part I". Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions 75: 30–36. doi:10.1039/CT8997500020. 
  5. Radwan, M.M.; ElSohly, M.A.; El-Alfy, A.T. et al. (2015). "Isolation and pharmacological evaluation of minor cannabinoids from high-potency Cannabis sativa". Journal of Natural Products 78 (6): 1271-6. doi:10.1021/acs.jnatprod.5b00065. PMC PMC4880513. PMID 26000707. 
  6. Solymosi, K.; Köfalvi, A. (2017). "Cannabis: A Treasure Trove or Pandora's Box?". Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry 17: 1123–91. doi:10.2174/1389557516666161004162133. 
  7. Mudge, E.M.; Murch, S.J.; Brown, P.N. (2018). "Chemometric Analysis of Cannabinoids: Chemotaxonomy and Domestication Syndrome". Scientific Reports 8: 13090. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-31120-2. 
  8. World Health Organization (2016). Hall, W.; Renström, M.; Poznyak, V. ed. The health and social effects of nonmedical cannabis use. World Health Organization. pp. 95. ISBN 978921510240. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Hazekamp, A.; Fischedick, J.T. (2012). "Cannabis - from cultivar to chemovar". Drug Testing and Analysis 4 (7–8): 660–7. doi:10.1002/dta.407. PMID 22362625. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Bush, E. (18 February 2015). "World’s strongest weed? Potency testing challenged". The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Rutsch, P. (24 March 2015). "Quality-Testing Legal Marijuana: Strong But Not Always Clean". Shots. National Public Radio. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  12. Kuzdzal, S.; Lipps, W. (2015). "Unraveling the Cannabinome". The Analytical Scientist (0915). Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  13. Crombie, N. (25 July 2016). "Marijuana labs prepping for regulation and oversight; no lab licenses issued yet". The Oregonian. Oregon Live LLC. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Kuzdzal, S.; Clifford, R.; Winkler, P.; Bankert, W. (December 2017). "A Closer Look at Cannabis Testing" (PDF). Shimadzu Corporation. Archived from the original on 07 December 2018. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  15. Bajaj, V. (30 July 2014). "How the Federal Government Slows Marijuana Research". Taking Note: The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  16. Chesler, J.; Ard, A. (15 August 2015). "Government restrictions, lack of funding slow progress on medical marijuana research". News21: America's Weed Rush. Carnegie Corporation of New York; John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Joseph, A. (10 August 2016). "DEA decision keeps major restrictions in place on marijuana research". STAT. Boston Globe Media. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  18. Rudroff, T. (21 January 2017). "Marijuana Regulation Blocks Vital Multiple Sclerosis Research". Newsweek. IBT Media, Inc. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  19. Romza-Kutz, D.; Roth V., F. (15 August 2016). "The silver lining in the DEA’s refusal to reclassify cannabis". Tracking Cannabis. Thompson Coburn LLP. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  20. Gurman, S. (8 September 2018). "Marijuana-Research Applications Go Nowhere at Justice Department". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  21. Ordoñez, F.; Kumar, A. (7 November 2018). "Trump fired Sessions. Here are four takeaways from the attorney general’s tenure". Miami Herald. The McClatchy Company. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  22. "Marijuana and Cannabinoids: A Neuroscience Research Summit". National Institutes of Health. 23 March 2016. Archived from the original on 18 January 2021. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  23. "Cannabis Science Conference". jCanna, Inc. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  24. Smith, J. (15 January 2020). "US House panel calls for stepped-up marijuana research, which could prove critical to federal reform". Marijuana Business Daily. Retrieved 07 July 2021. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Diversion Control Division (18 December 2020). "Marihuana Growers Information". U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  26. 13 April 2022. "Can DEA-backed cannabis growers strike gold via drug development?". Retrieved 08 July 2022.