More scientific papers on cannabis were published in eleven months of 2021 than all of 2020. In the past eleven years, a total of 27,000 peer-reviewed articles specific to cannabis have been published. The per-year totals increased each year. Researchers published fewer than 3,000 total papers about marijuana during the ’90s (1990-1999) and fewer than 2,000 total studies during the 1980s.
“Scientists’ interest in studying cannabis has increased exponentially in recent years, as has our understanding of the plant, its active constituents, their mechanisms of action, and their effects on both the user and upon society,” said Paul Armentano, NORML’s Deputy Director. “It is time for politicians and others to stop assessing cannabis through the lens of ‘what we don’t know’ and instead start engaging in evidence-based discussions about marijuana and marijuana reform policies that are indicative of all that we do know.”
A new focus on the therapeutic benefits of cannabis has contributed to the steady increase of research. The total number of peer-reviewed cannabis-specific publications has increased nine-fold since 2000. Removing government restrictions has contributed to the rise in cannabis research.
Because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, scientists with federal funding had been prohibited from using the cannabis sold at state-licensed dispensaries for their clinical research.
That changed this past spring when the federal government removed a significant obstacle toward more effective cannabis research. The Drug Enforcement Administration registered several American companies to produce cannabis for medical and scientific purposes. Previously, researchers were restricted to using marijuana produced at only one domestic source: a facility based at the University of Mississippi, through a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“A momentous decision,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies at the time of the announcement. “This is the last political obstruction of research with Schedule 1 drugs.”
Dr. Sue Sisley is a cannabis researcher and president of the Scottsdale Research Institute, which received DEA approval to produce cannabis for research. Sisley had long taken issue with how the facility processed the supply of cannabis coming from the NIDA facility in Mississippi. She described the cannabis product used in her published clinical trial treating PTSD in military veterans as an “anemic” greenish powder.
“It’s very difficult to overcome the placebo effect when you have something that diluted,” Sisley said. “There [are] thousands of different cannabis varieties that all have unique chemical profiles and produce unique clinical effects, but we didn’t have access to that normal diversity.”
In the first eleven months of 2021, researchers worldwide published 3,800+ scientific papers on cannabis, exceeding the total number of papers published last year. In 2020, scientists published 3,500+ articles on cannabis in peer-reviewed journals — a total which was, at that time, the most ever in a single year.