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Editorials

High Time for Marijuana Research

HMS Gordon Hall
The main quad at Harvard Medical School.

Last month, Charles R. Broderick made history by providing the largest independent donation to Harvard and MIT to fund research on the medical properties of cannabinoids. The $9 million donation comes amidst a groundswell of state-led marijuana decriminalization, much of which centers on the drug’s medicinal uses, and proposes to study its medical and neurobiological effects.

Harvard has hit the green with this donation — as marijuana use becomes more widespread, research in this under-studied field becomes increasingly important. Thus, it should mark the start of broader efforts rather than the culmination of research into the drug’s medical effects.

Thorough, high-quality research into cannabis is long overdue. Ten states have already legalized recreational marijuana use, and 23 have sanctioned its medical use. In light of this widespread availability, such research must better contextualize the benefits and consequences of its use from a medical standpoint. Researchers at MIT and Harvard have already proposed to use this funding for a variety of studies ranging from neurobiology to psychiatry, and we are hopeful that the donation will begin to close this knowledge gap in medical research. In addition to these proposed projects, we hope to see research into long-term health outcomes of regular cannabis users.

In the context of this call for further research, we are acutely aware of the social conditions surrounding marijuana’s legalization, and we believe all research should be grounded in those conditions. Because legal enforcement and decriminalization have predominantly hurt black and brown communities, and resultant social repercussions continue to grip our society, it’s important that marijuana research, medical and otherwise, proceed with this context in mind. Regardless of whether biomedical scientists feel equipped to account for the social contexts of marijuana use in their research, we hope to see additional funding channels open so that sociological research can accompany medical studies.

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Marijuana use will continue regardless of local or federal laws surrounding it, so better understanding the long-term effects of daily use can only better help inform health and social policy. This argument also extends to other drugs that are currently criminalized. Research on harder drugs, such as psychedelics, as they relate to health issues, should be viewed as something to aid our society in understanding and dealing with them, rather than as a blanket endorsement of their use.

As obtaining research funding through traditional methods for cannabis research continues to pose a challenge given the drug’s criminalization at the federal level, we hope that other sources, including private donors like Broderick, will continue to fund this important research. While many existing funds are being channeled into research on cannabis’ medical properties, we hope that marijuana’s increased visibility will lead to a diversification of the research surrounding it.

We are glad to see support for this important cannabis research, but we hope future studies can be conducted without reliance upon the money and interest of private individuals. Broderick’s donation has the potential to mark a positive step in marijuana research, but it is important to recognize his connections to the Canadian cannabis industry. Though HMS and MIT have pledged that the donor will have no involvement in the projects, and we believe his donation was given in good faith and are duly appreciative, we generally view research funded by parties with compelling market interest in research outcomes with skepticism. We hope that researchers will remain faithful to this pledge and carry out their research rigorously and impartially with publicly and clearly outlined objectives. We hope this research will catalyze future work that benefits society, informing policies regulating consumption of marijuana.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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