In one of the latest signs that the federal government is recognizing the reality of the marijuana legalization movement’s continued success, a top health agency released an extensive list of cannabis-related research objectives it hopes to fund.
The notice, published on Wednesday, notes the rapid evolution of marijuana policies in the U.S. and globally, which is “far outpacing the knowledge needed to determine and minimize the public health impacts of these changes.”
“A growing number of states have loosened restrictions on cannabis, including those on sales and use, by passing medical marijuana laws or by making cannabis legal for adult recreational use, and in some cases, states have done both,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) wrote.
It also referenced a 2018 report from a cannabis policy working group that was tasked with identifying “cannabis policy research areas with the greatest urgency and potential for impact.”
Evidently, there are quite a few areas that fit that description, as NIDA listed 13 research objectives of “programmatic interest.” And while the agency has previously called for studies into several areas that are featured on the notice, there are others that signal NIDA is evolving in its understanding of research needs as more states opt to legalize.
For example, NIDA is not simply focusing on providing grants to explore the health risks of cannabis use, it’s also interested in learning about “reasons for initiation and continued use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes” as well as investigating “how cannabis industry practices, including research on marketing, taxes, and prices, impact use and health outcomes.”
The agency also wants to fund studies that look at the differences in legal marijuana regulatory schemes in various jurisdictions to “understand which combinations or components minimize harm to public health.”
Other research goals NIDA described include exploring the impact of cannabis use during pregnancy and developing roadside testing instruments to identify THC impaired drivers as well as standards to measure marijuana dosing.
Here’s the full list of research objectives:
—Develop standards for measuring cannabis (including hemp and hemp product) dose, intoxication, and impairment.
—Enhance existing epidemiology research to study trends for cannabis use and CUD; including new products, patterns of use, and reasons for use in different populations.
—Characterize the composition/potency of cannabis, methods of administration, cannabis extracts/concentrates, and cannabis of varying constituents (e.g. cannabinoid or terpene content), as well as how those factors impact physical and mental health.
—Determine the physical and mental health antecedents of use, as well as outcomes of use.
—Explore the impact of polysubstance use on health outcomes, including interactions (substitution/complementation) with alcohol, tobacco, and prescription and nonprescription opioids.
—Examine reasons for initiation and continued use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes.
—Investigate the effects of different patterns of cannabis use on brain development, educational attainment, and transition to work and adult roles.
—Identify the effects of maternal cannabis consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
—Develop effective roadside tests for cannabis impairment that can be practically deployed by law enforcement.
—Determine the prevalence of cannabis-involved vehicular crashes and other types of injury or property damage.
—Investigate how cannabis industry practices, including research on marketing, taxes, and prices, impact use and health outcomes (e.g. how different price points impact consumption patterns across different levels of use).
—Determine the impact of federal, state, and local marijuana policies and their implementation on use and health outcomes.
—Explore the heterogeneity of regulatory schemes (e.g. models for retail distribution of cannabis) to understand which combinations or components minimize harm to public health.
A number of federal health agencies have issued several notices for marijuana-related research opportunities in recent months. One that received particular attention came from NIDA in May, when it said applications were open for what is essentially a professional research-grade marijuana joint roller and analyst position.
While NIDA said that research isn’t keeping up with the rapid reform movement, its director also acknowledged in April that the federal drug scheduling system—which regards cannabis as a tightly restricted Schedule I drug—has inhibited such research by making it difficult for scientists to access marijuana.