Before the scientific community can truly begin to examine the medicinal benefits of the marijuana, the federal government is going to need to step up its cultivation skills and provide researchers with government marijuana that doesn’t look like a pile of lawn clippings.
Earlier this week, Dr. Sue Sisley with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) posted a series of photos of the marijuana given to her by Uncle Sam to study the effects of cannabis medicine on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Based on appearances alone, the weed is not even remotely similar to the commercial marijuana being sold in dispensaries across the nation – it’s pale and full of stems.
Related Story: Congress, Marijuana And PTSD: The State Of The Debate
In fact, Dr. Sisley recently told PBS News Hour that the government’s so-called research cannabis, which is produced at the DEA’s only licensed cultivation facility at the University of Mississippi, might not actually be marijuana by today’s standards.
“It didn’t resemble cannabis. It didn’t smell like cannabis,” she said.
Pot experts, like Jake Browne, a cannabis critic for The Denver Post says the weed provided by the federal government for scientific purposes is “flat out, not a usable form of cannabis.”
“In two decades of smoking weed, I’ve never seen anything that looks like that,” Browne told the Washington Post. “People typically smoke the flower of the plant, but here you can clearly see stems and leaves in there as well, parts that should be discarded. Inhaling that would be like eating an apple, including the seeds inside it and the branch it grew on.”
Although the government claims the marijuana its grows under the supervision of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) comes with around 13 percent THC, laboratory testing by Dr. Sisley’s crew determined the herb really only contains around 8 percent – comparable to the pot being sold on the black market in the 1970s.
Related Story: Here’s How THC Has The Power To Fight Breast Cancer
To put this into perspective, the average THC content of the marijuana sold in retail pot shops in places like Colorado is around 19 percent, with the higher end strains sometimes reaching more than 30 percent.
Because of this, researchers say the government’s weed is not a high enough quality to use in medical testing. Furthermore, the federal herb is not tested for dangerous molds and yeasts that can cause people to suffer serious, even life-threatening illnesses.
“There’s no telling how many subjects in past studies were exposed,” Sisley told PBS.
However, the federal government recently suggested that the quality issue was on the verge of an improvement.
“There has been some emerging interest from the research community for a wider variety of marijuana and marijuana products. … NIDA does plan on growing some additional marijuana this year and harvest some high THC material that will likely be above 13 percent THC,” a spokesperson for NIDA told the Post in an emailed statement.