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How to Break the Government's Cruel Blockade on Cannabis Research

Oakland's Harborside Health Center is conducting a groundbreaking survey, using its own patient pool to catalog the research potential of cannabis.

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“We’ve heard innumerable jokes about how, 'You hippies think cannabis good for everything from cancer to hangnails,'” he says. “But the fact of the matter is the endocannabinoid system is believed by some to be the largest neurochemical system in the human body and regulates and modulates the chemical balances in a tremendous number of our central life support systems.”

The central nervous system, the immune system, the circulatory system, and microcirculatory system are all regulated by the endocannabinoid system.

“What other medicine can we think of that is also produced by our human body?” DeAngelo asks.

He continues, “[The endocannabinoid system] is a critical part of human health, and one day not so long in the future the rediscovery of cannabis medicine and the discovery of the endocannabinoid system are going to be looked upon as just as important as the discovery of germ theory.”

Breaking the “Federal Research Blockade”

Because of the war on drugs and resulting classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance (meaning a substance with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration), national research on cannabis has been severely limited. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a stronghold on the supply of cannabis available for research, and the DEA continually refuses to allow researchers to grow their own plants.

However, DeAngelo says, HHC has broken “the federal research blockade,” on cannabis by using their more than 100,000 patients to conduct a groundbreaking survey, " Cannabis Study," that will catalog the way different types of cannabis impact different symptoms. 

 “We’ve been caught in this Catch 22 with the federal government—and prohibitionists in general—where they keep saying, ‘You need to study cannabis more,’ but at the same time they will not give licenses to people to possess the cannabis to actually study it,” DeAngelo says.

So, HHC decided to take advantage of the fact that their patients provide a large, diverse pool of medical cannabis users for a long-term research survey.

The survey project is part of an HHC effort in alliance with the University of the City of London and the drug policy research group the Beckley Foundation, to compile a database based on the survey results that will let medical cannabis users look up which strains of cannabis are most commonly preferred to treat particular ailments.

In order to do this, HHC developed a questionnaire that asks patients about the cannabis they’re using and their symptoms. It also asks patients about their use of pharmaceutical drugs to treat those symptoms.  

HHC and its partners plan to key the questionnaire answers to the results of the extensive tests HHC has already done to categorize the various types of cannabis that come through their facility. The cannabis study project is still in its early data collection phase, but the hope is that the eventual result will be an easily accessible categorization of each strain of cannabis, and its customer preference status in treating each particular health problem.

Same Seed, Different Strains

This is where things get tricky. In their testing, HHC has found that the cannabinoid profile, even within any given strain of cannabis, can vary markedly depending on the grower and growing conditions of the plant.

“There’s a whole esoteric question about what is a strain of cannabis and what makes a strain of cannabis a particular strain,” says DeAngelo. “You can take two clones that came from the same mother plant, give one to grower A and one to grower B and they’re going to come back with plants that have a different cannabinoid profile.”