Is Industry Support for Cannabis Research a Genuine Conflict?

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Documents recently uncovered by means of California’s Public Records Act have revealed that the cannabis industry has supported UCLA research into marijuana’s health benefits to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Critics are crying foul, saying a clear conflict of interest undermines the independence of UCLA scientific study. But does it?

UCLA is not unique in its practice of accepting industry donations. As reported by the LA Times, millions of dollars have poured into research programs at Harvard, MIT, and other universities over the years. It all points back to the fundamental question of whether industry support for cannabis research constitutes a genuine conflict of interest.

Pharmaceutical Companies Test Their Drugs

For the record, the issue here is medical research. UCLA and other universities are studying the potential health benefits marijuana has to offer. Critics say that any financial support is paramount to marijuana growers and processors paying researchers to produce data that works in their favor.

Before jumping to that conclusion, let us make a comparison between marijuana research and the research pharmaceutical companies conduct on their own products. Pharmaceutical companies are constantly looking at the health benefits a variety of substances in order to come up with new drugs. It is part of their business model.

As long as Big Pharma isn’t manipulating research data to imply efficacy were none really exists, what’s the problem with researching things that could lead to new products and therapies? Likewise, as long as the marijuana industry isn’t trying to buy research that goes in its favor, there isn’t a conflict.

The Industry Believes in Efficacy

The fact of the matter is that the marijuana industry believes in the medical efficacy of its chosen plant. How are we to know whether such beliefs are accurate without studying marijuana? Furthermore, why should an industry vested in its own success be called into question for helping fund research?

In a perfect world, medical research would be done independently of any third-party interest. That includes both public and private sector interest. But this is not a perfect world. Medical research is influenced by all sorts of interests, both public and private.

To the medical marijuana user in Utah, who funds research proving that marijuana is an effective PTSD treatment is not important as long as medical cannabis actually works. That is the real issue to patients, according to the operators of medical marijuana dispensary Beehive Pharmacy in Salt Lake City and Brigham City.

A Significant Lack of Research

Beehive Farmacy owners say that there has been a significant lack of research into marijuana’s medical efficacy for decades. Thanks to federal restrictions and the difficulty of getting one’s hands on marijuana, the claimed benefits of medical cannabis have been left to anecdotal evidence and speculation.

The cannabis industry wants to get research going as quickly as possible for obvious reasons. Without research, we will never know what marijuana’s medical benefits might be, if they exist at all.

Therefore, if we are going to cry file because marijuana companies have invested in medical research, we need to apply the same standard across the board. On the other hand, it is reasonable to look beyond who funds research as long as it’s made clear that the organizations providing the funding aren’t attempting to buy favorable results.

Fortunately, the whole issue of research was recently made easier by passage of a new federal law that streamlines the application process and gives researchers much greater access to cannabis plant material. The new law will hopefully lead to a whole new wave of research into marijuana’s health benefits.

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