By Jill Ellsworth | June 20, 2024 | Cannabis & Tech Today

As more states and countries decriminalize or fully legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use, the need for reliable data has never been more critical. Rapid expansion and evolving social attitudes have transformed cannabis from a fringe market to a multi-billion-dollar industry with significant economic impact. 

For decades, cannabis research was repressed by stringent legal constraints and a Schedule 1 classification in the U.S., leading to a significant gap in science-backed understanding of the plant. This gap has materialized into inconsistent product quality and regulatory requirements, making it difficult to ensure consumer safety and product efficacy across the board.

However, as regulations have progressed and allowed for more dedicated research, the need for robust, reliable data now becomes an actionable opportunity to ensure further product quality, safety, and consistency—factors crucial for consumer trust and industry growth. 

Despite this progress, the industry still faces significant challenges with the lack of historical data. Still, with new opportunities at the forefront, the science community will be able to dive deeper and provide the research needed to advance. 

The Necessity of Reliable Data

For any industry, research becomes a catalyst for innovation and success, and every single sector of the cannabis industry needs reliable data. As the opportunity for cannabis research expands, the community will be able to make informed decisions that impact countless areas such as product safety, employee health, quality assurance, and the overall knowledge of the plant’s medicinal benefits. 

One of the most pressing challenges in the cannabis industry is the inconsistency in product quality, testing and regulations. Contaminant testing for pesticides, heavy metals, and microbial content plays a crucial role in ensuring that products are safe for consumption. Testing also supports the creation of standardized testing protocols. It contributes to more informed policy-making, ultimately benefiting both the industry and consumers. 

The Importance of Reliable Data in Cannabis Research
Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Accurate labeling of THC and CBD content is vital, allowing consumers to make educated choices. At the same time, advances in medical cannabis research shed light on therapeutic benefits and risks, potential drug interactions, and side effects. Data can drive the discussion throughout this community. 

At its core, building out research and development programs positively affects every facet, from seed to sale. Cultivators may use data to improve their processes and solve contamination issues. Manufacturers, retailers, and even regulatory bodies may use data to understand shelf life better. With developments happening on the federal level, the effort to establish reliable data resources could have a significant impact on future advancements.

Partnerships Driving Cannabis Research Forward

The data deficit, along with ongoing regulatory changes and research challenges, sparked collaborations dedicated to advancing cannabis research and knowledge. These partnerships are essential in overcoming research hurdles and enhancing research capabilities. 

Over recent years, the number of universities and institutions conducting cannabis research has significantly increased due to changes in federal and state regulations. Historically, the University of Mississippi was the sole institution authorized to grow cannabis for research under a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)​​. 

Now, more universities across the United States are establishing dedicated cannabis research facilities. Washington State University established the Center for Cannabis Policy, Research and Outreach (CCPRO), which involves nearly 100 scientists working on various cannabis-related projects​. The University of Colorado, Oregon State University, and Cornell University also have prominent research programs on cannabis and hemp​. 

However, funding limitations still pose challenges to these programs. Many of the universities involved in horticulturally-focused cannabis research have either stopped or pivoted to fiber and grain production because of grants that would not cover the needs for cannabinoid production.

Expanding research possibilities with universities has made huge strides for knowledge, but the opportunities also lie heavily on the industry itself. A prime example is the Cannabis Research Coalition (CRC), which partners with academia and cannabis industry stakeholders to implement science-based research in developing cultivation techniques required to create a sustainable, efficient, and profitable industry. 

“Due to limited university funding, the CRC stands as one of the few reliable sources for science-based cannabis research. Academic research is still primarily in the discovery phase, focused on foundational scientific investigations rather than practical applications,” said Allison Justice, PhD, Founder and CEO of the Cannabis Research Coalition and The Hemp Mine. 

“While this discovery research is essential, it often lacks immediate relevance to industry needs. By collaborating directly with the cannabis industry, the CRC ensures that research priorities are aligned with industry demands, providing valuable, actionable insights.”

The benefits of this partnership, and others like it, extend beyond the industry to consumers and regulatory bodies alike. One of the most immediate advantages is that enhanced product safety and quality provide greater peace of mind for consumers, while better-informed regulatory policies ensure that industry standards are consistently upheld. 

As we continue to focus on developing an inventory of data, we will ensure that cannabis’s benefits are accessible to all while minimizing potential risks. The vision for a standardized, data-driven approach to cannabis safety and efficacy provides insight into the possibilities for new advancements in industry practices, builds legitimacy in the global industry, and solidifies the intersection between cannabis and science.

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