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Even After Legalization, Marijuana Researchers Lack Avenues for Study

Even After Legalization, Marijuana Researchers Lack Avenues for Study

Author: Reilly Capps/Thursday, July 2, 2015/Categories: natural history

[Above, evolutionary geneticist Daniela Vergara shows off some samples of cannabis DNA, stored at minus 76 Celsius in her lab on the campus of the University of Colorado. Photo by Reilly Capps / SWP Media]

By Reilly Capps

DENVER -- Who says weed and science don't go together? Since this state legalized marijuana, the number of scientific experiments multiplied by the millions. Among the questions being researched:

- If you vape before golfing, will it affect your handicap?

-What happens if you bake Purple Urkel into a dog biscuit and slip it to your Husky? (Evidence below.)

 - If you smoke Herujuana before meeting your future in-laws, will his father know you're high? Here he is. He looked at you. He knows. He totally knows! Why do you make such bad decisions? Kelsey was counting on you.

While these kinds of studies may lack the rigor of a double-blind, placebo controlled peer- reviewed scientific experiment, they are sketching a picture of what happens if you give people -- from all walks of life -- access to this plant. Some stats:

- Crime is down. Compared to 2013, the year before legalization, burglaries in 2014 fell by 10 percent, and robberies fell 3 percent.
- People aren't dying. Only three deaths have been linked to marijuana -- two suicides and one homicide committed by high people. There were no deaths by overdosing. (In comparison, alcohol is listed as a "main factor" in one  out of every seven Colorado deaths.) 

- Traffic fatalities have not increased; driving high sometimes seems more hilarious than dangerous. (Evidence below.) 

 - The sky over Colorado remains 50,000 feet high, apocalypse is a no-show and reefers show no signs of madness.

But what if you were a scientist unsatisfied with this preliminary data, and you wanted to study the plant in a rigorous scientific way? What if you were Dr. Phillip Danielson, who studies molecular endocrinology at the University of Denver, and you wanted to learn, say, how munchies might fatten up anorexics, how oil could soothe epilepsy, or how flower could shrink tumors?

Well, as a scientist, someone responsible for safekeeping our society's endless quest for knowledge -- you're flat out of luck. Why? The feds. Danielson's lab gets federal funding, he said, and so he won't risk studying a plant that is federally illegal, lest he lose access to federal dollars. (Side note: the federal government has long allowed scientists to study the plant, but mostly to study its downsides, to see how bad or addictive or impairing it is -- and also to learn, from the genome, how to better track the origins of plants, so that weed sold on the street can be traced back to a grower, making it easier to prosecute him.)


So. This is why things are getting interesting in Colorado; this is why scenes like the following are taking place:

In a lecture hall at the University of Denver recently, evolutionary biologist Daniela Vergara of the University of Colorado lectured a half-packed room on the intricacies of the cannabis genome, which she and her team have decoded as thoroughly as anyone before them. She talked about sativa vs. indica, and how close cannabis is to hops, its nearest relative, and how well local shops were labeling their sativas vs. their indicas. After, Danielson approached her.

"How did you get marijuana?" Danielson  asked Vergara. She said it was donated to them. "But how?" he asked again. "Where did you get this plant material?" In the asking, he sounded a little bit the way millions of younger brothers, not-that-cool band mates, and residents of Texas have for decades; come on, bro, where did you get your weed?

For a grown man to ask this question in Colorado? Six blocks away, StarBuds sold Purple Cotton, Pootie Tang and Northern Lights for $16 a gram, and about 14 other weed shops sat within two miles. It points to something seriously wrong in the way our federal government values -- or doesn't -- scientific research. 

Vergara and her team are finding clever ways to obtain information on cannabis DNA; their work suggests the beginning of a rush toward a scientific understanding of a plant that is perhaps the biggest cash crop in the country -- all without federal assistance. Vergara's team, the Cannabis Genomic Research Initiative, is taking advantages of the opportunities afforded them by a more relaxed Colorado cannabis law, just as researchers in more weed-tolerant places like Canada and Spain have for years.

Anyway. The answer to Danielson's question, the story of where Vergara obtains cannabis DNA, what she has learned and hopes to learn, is worth more than one blog post. Check back soon.

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2 comments on article "Even After Legalization, Marijuana Researchers Lack Avenues for Study"



9/5/2015 7:41 AM

Dispensaries like would love to enlighten you about the whole process. I wouldn't agree on lack of study, some people made it overrated and thought it can cure almost anything.



9/5/2015 7:42 AM

Dispensaries like would love to enlighten you about the whole process. I wouldn't agree on lack of study, some people made it overrated and thought it can cure almost anything.

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