What Cannabis Studies Tell Us

Date: 11 JAN 19 posted by Christeson

The following compendium of landmark cannabis studies is exclusively focused on top-level research that either fundamentally advanced our understanding of the plant’s therapeutic properties, or thoroughly debunked some pernicious piece of official misinformation—such as “smoking weed gives you lung cancer.”

But that’s only half the story when it comes to the intersection of science and cannabis. So before we get to the good stuff, let’s start with an unfortunately typical example of the kind of spurious evidence that has been consistently used over the last hundred years to support the government’s all-out war on cannabis.

Our story begins in 1974, when Dr. Robert Galbraith Heath published research conducted at Tulane University, where he chaired the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology. Today, the late Dr. Heath is a controversial figure in the world of neuroscience, largely due to his pioneering efforts to study deep brain stimulation (a.k.a. electro-shock) as a “conversion therapy” for homosexuals, and his willing participation in illegal, CIA-led human experiments of a “brainwashing” drug called bulbocapnine. But at the time, his credentials remained impeccable.

And so, when Heath produced findings supposedly showing that “the active ingredient in marijuana [THC] impairs the brain’s circuitry,” the press dutifully ran headlines claiming “Pot Causes Brain Damage” without a trace of skepticism. While anti-cannabis politicians like then California Governor Ronald Reagan immediately seized on the study as evidence that cannabis was far too dangerous to even consider legalizing.”

Like many federally funded studies of the era, Heath’s research was deeply flawed. In Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana, author Martin Lee calls out his exceedingly small study of rhesus monkeys as “a textbook case of scientific fraud.”

Heath’s findings were never replicated, and several prominent follow up studies—including one at the National Center for Toxicology Research—directly repudiated his conclusions.

Then in 2003, the US Department of Health and Human Services was granted a patent on “cannabinoids as neuroprotectants,” based on evidence that compounds found in the cannabis plant not only don’t cause brain damage, they’re actually effective in “limiting neurological damage following…stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”

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