Has Federal Marijuana Research Evolved?

Considering the ever-changing laws, has federal marijuana research evolved?
Has Federal Marijuana Research Evolved?

Has federal marijuana research evolved since the early days of prohibition? The legalization of marijuana by states across the country has tempered the federal government’s presentation of research on marijuana. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) acknowledges research that makes several former concerns inaccurate today.

Research Contrasts Concerns

How Has Federal Marijuana Research Evolved?

NIDA has always expressed concern over marijuana’s effect on memory and consciousness. They act as if getting high is a negative side-effect rather than one of the reasons people use it.  They continue to worry about its effect on learning and driving. On a more serious note research suggests some concern over the effect of marijuana use on the developing brains of teenagers and whether heavy use at that age harms cognitive development.

More interesting is that NIDA acknowledges that while they would like to see more research on the subject, when it comes to medical marijuana “there is mounting anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of marijuana-derived compounds.”  However, there has been a subtle change in how NIDA refers to medical cannabis. It is now part of a general and recognized category of therapeutic substances known as botanicals.

Has federal marijuana research evolved since the popular gateway theory came about? NIDA acknowledges that of people who use marijuana typically do not use other, more dangerous drugs.

How Has Federal Marijuana Research Evolved?

NIDA also clarifies the linkage between marijuana and psychiatric disorders. However, the connection was confined to people with preexisting genetic conditions or other vulnerabilities. They concluded that there was no significant risk for the general population.

While smoke is harmful to the lungs, studies have failed to associate marijuana with emphysema and lung cancer.  However, heavy marijuana users report more symptom of chronic bronchitis.  On the other hand, NIDA explains that THC and CBD have been shown in animal studies to have antitumor effects, and this may explain why there no connection between the use of marijuana and more serious lung problems.

There are also a few studies showing a link between adolescent marijuana use and an increased risk for testicular cancer.  Another relatively new concern that is Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, “a condition marked by recurrent bouts of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.  This condition occurs in persons over 50 with a long history of cannabis use.  These developments will be subject to further research.

How Has Federal Marijuana Research Evolved?

NIDA also reports on the impact of marijuana legalization on the opioid crises.  The first study found a reduction in overdose deaths from opioid pain relievers in states that had legalized marijuana. The effect grew stronger every year after legalization.

A more detailed study funded by NIDA and conducted by the RAND Corporation shows areas with cannabis dispensaries have lower levels of opioids prescribed. Additionally, there is less self-reported opioid use, fewer people need treatment for the abuse of pain pills and overdose deaths are reduced.

Final Hit: Has Federal Marijuana Research Evolved?

The government has always pushed that idea that marijuana is addictive but overlooks clinical standards about drug dependency about just what that means.  However, the use of alcohol, tobacco and other substances like marijuana or kratom by teenagers can contribute to other problems in early adulthood.  The research supporting these warnings has been available for some time now. And they seem to support efforts to reduce marijuana’s availability to teenagers and support responsible use of marijuana by adults.


  • Jon Gettman

    Jon Gettman is the Cannabis Policy Director for High Times. Jon has a Ph.D. in public policy, teaching undergraduate criminal justice and graduate level management courses. A long-time contributor to High Times, his research and analytical work has been used by NORML, Marijuana Policy Project, American’s for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations. Jon’s research contributions to the topic of marijuana law reform have included findings on the economic value of domestic marijuana cultivation, attempts to have marijuana rescheduled under federal law and racial disparities in marijuana possession arrest rates. Serving as NORML’s National Director in the late 1980s, he was instrumental in creating NORML’s activist program.

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