5 Research Truths the Cannabis Industry Must Embrace

CannaWrite’s foundations are built on research, education and the way information is initiated, generated and shared. Until recently, I spent ALL of my adult professional life within education. I loved it, but knew my energies could be spent in an area where I was passionate: cannabis. Here I am!

As CannaWrite develops, with a goal to educate and spread information, my education ABOUT education has become extremely relevant. Being within the research space, where I took particular interest in how research is communicated to the general public, I’ve been able to understand and find pretty good explanations as to why marijuana is so under-researched.

Here’s a few truths about research, as I understand it, and how it applies to the cannabis industry. I am NOT an expert, but an observer, yet, I hope I can also offer ideas for a thoughtful way forward for cannabis research.

1.    Most, if not all, research has bias

While modern research process and ethics dictate research bias should be disclosed, or eliminated, most researchers, or more importantly, the funders of (private or public sector) research, want to see a particular outcome. Research methods are very diverse across all disciplines, but can often be executed in ways that reach a conclusion that proves the hypothesis.

For marijuana, for instance, if an anti-marijuana group wants to scientifically prove that it’s bad for you, they will do that through research. Similarly, groups advocating for the benefits of marijuana will likely find evidence to support their claims.

2.    Formal research is an agonizingly long process

From developing a research question, to building a research team, to writing a grant proposal, to getting ethical approval, to getting funding started, to the time it takes to actually execute a formalized study can take an agonizingly long time. I’m not talking months here. I’m talking years, even decades if it’s a longitudinal study formally observing certain conditions over time.

We need that research for cannabis decades ago, and it’s not available in enough of a conclusive form to support current efforts to legalize.

3.    Research is highly connected to status, money and self-interest

One thing that concerned me greatly working within the research space the tie between research and status, money and self-interest. While remaining someone who values research, I’ve also seen how research topics, methods, and the infrastructures and institutions that support them highly influence the why, what and who of research that is conducted. It’s very (P)olitical and in both private and public sectors is tied to individual career advancement and a lot of the times, financial gain. 

4.   Research doesn’t get used like it could

A LOT of research is created and generated, but the ability for this research to benefit the public can get stunted. A lot of the times, researchers can do the great research work, write their research papers, and submit their research to their peer-reviewed journal of choice, but it often stops there. I’ve always been concerned with the practice of “Knowledge Translation” which takes the research from researchers and makes it relevant, understandable, and palpable to the general public.

Research doesn’t get mobilized enough as it is to be as effective as it could be for the cannabis industry.

5.    Research Findings are often “Closed Access”

When I was in the academic sphere, I aligned myself with the “open access” movement, with the belief that information and knowledge should be available to the general public and not hidden within industry publications you need to pay to get access to, library holdings that you need to belong to an institution to access, or closed access portals where you have to purchase a very expensive subscription to access.

Knowledge shouldn’t have to be bought, and the cannabis community should have the right to access information as it becomes available without financial implication.

A Possible Way Forward

I wish I felt more optimistic that research in the cannabis sphere would pick up, but I don’t because of what I’ve known about research and how research is generated and shared. I must remain positive and hopeful though, because I DO know that research CAN create change. It just needs to be executed better with the desire for change in mind.

What can the cannabis industry do? Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Approach graduate students who are looking for research topics to explore for their thesis and propose a cannabis-specific topic, and give them resources and avenues for information dissemination
  2. Engage in informal research by conducting informal surveys of groups of interest around cannabis. For instance, CannaWrite just conducted an informal survey about Moms who use cannabis to understand attitudes, practices and other valuable information about this important sector of our society who is consuming cannabis.
  3. Lobby for your local, state/province, or federal government to place more money into research, by engaging in letter-writing campaigns, showing up at public meetings, or visiting your representative to discuss the need for cannabis research
  4. Encourage people to share their stories with cannabis. We may not have formalized studies that detail people’s experiences with cannabis, but we can continue to tell their stories through platforms concerned with the spread of information. Empirical evidence is valuable and must be treated as such.
  5. Find strength in numbers. I know of a group of parents in California who have all gotten together with the common interest to allow children with seizure disorders to access medical marijuana. Together, they provide evidence of the effects of cannabis on seizure disorders, and they’re not waiting for a clinician to formally publish this research. Find strength in numbers, and communicate as one entity with similar interests and experiences.

Research is a highly contentious endeavour that involves money, know-how, and a true desire to create change through knowledge. It is up to US, those involved in cannabis, to keep adding to what we know about cannabis, despite the lag in research.

If you’re a cannabis business, entrepreneur, or community group who is interested in exploring the world of research, please connect with CannaWrite to discuss how we can be of support or how we can collaborate together.