Which countries are taking the initiative to deliver the most advanced scientific research on cannabis? These four countries are leading the way at the moment.
As the resurgence of cannabis continues to take hold across the globe, there is an undeniable need for quality scientific research. Legal restrictions have made scientific studies on cannabis difficult here in the United States, but that doesn’t mean other countries aren’t allowing cannabis research to take place within their borders.
The following is a list of the top four countries who are ahead of the game in cannabis research and who are currently taking proactive steps to examine the potential benefits of cannabis.
When it comes to places known for cannabis, Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands, is always at the top of the list. It makes sense that a country known for cannabis cafes may know a little something about the science of marijuana.
The Netherlands is one of the three countries in the world with a nationally-sponsored medical marijuana program, the other two (Canada and Israel) are also on the list. A strong government backing has helped the Netherlands become a standard for destigmatizing cannabis.
In 2001, the Office of Medicinal Cannabis was established, followed by the launch of the medicinal marijuana program in 2003. Since then, the Netherlands has become a “frontrunner in the applications of medical cannabis in healthcare,” according to Health Europa.
Now in 2020, the country is taking another step by inviting new varieties of cannabis to be sold to medical marijuana patients with a request to provide feedback. CannNext, a company that performs cannabis research has been looking for better medicinal cannabis varieties for patients.
Eric Uleman, CannNext managing director, said the way to determine the variety will be based on individual preferences from patients and how the cannabis is positively interacting with the patient’s health.
“The choice of species will be determined by the experiences and preferences of patients. To this end, CannNext will collaborate with patient associations and research institutes to determine which species are most desired,” he said.
Touted as “The Holy Land of medical marijuana,” by U.S. News and World Report, Israel is considered the most innovative country in the world when it comes to cannabis research. That claim to fame wouldn’t be possible without cannabis research pioneer Raphael Mechoulam.
The revered Israeli organic chemist and professor of medicinal chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem published his groundbreaking discoveries about the structure of the cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in 1963 and 1964, followed by clinical tests with CBD published in 1980.
Mechoulam’s research has included co-discovering the endocannabinoid system, and that the human brain produces its own cannabinoids. Since then the country has been funding scientific studies on cannabis placing Israel at the top of the list for cannabis research.
In 2017, the School of Pharmacy at Hebrew University founded the Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research. The center, which employs 27 cannabis researchers, builds on Mechoulam’s early research. The cannabis research being done in the country is focused on marijuana’s potential role in the treatment of various health conditions.
When it comes to wide-open space with full access to legal cannabis, Canada is the next cannabis research haven. In 2018, Canada became the second country to fully legalize cannabis and the largest economy to do so at the time.
The legalization processes took off with the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who ran in 2015 on a promise for recreational cannabis legalization. In preparation for the launch of the cannabis program in Canada, a coalition of more than 1,800 Canadian scientists and researchers sent a letter to Trudeau requesting that the government make cannabis easier to study.
In 2018, the Canadian government opted to put $1.4 million toward 14 scientific projects that plan to study the effects of legalizing cannabis nationwide. According to reports, some of the projects will feature potential impacts from cannabis use in Indigenous communities, pregnant women and teenagers, while other projects will examine how cannabis use changes post-legalization.
The Czech Republic is home to castles, medieval buildings, and the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI). The institute is a world leader in evidence-based cannabis research and known to be an international educational hub. For this reason, the Czech Republic makes our list of top leading countries in cannabis research.
The ICCI launched in 2015 when organizations Americans for Safe Access (ASA), their sister group in Prague KOPAC, and Dioscorides Global Holdings (DGH) were joined by the Minister of Health for the Czech Republic, Svatopluk Němeček to announce the establishment of the new research center.
The hub is unique in that it offers a variety of research services and is a self-proclaimed Center of Excellence. According to the company’s website, a Center for Excellence “refers to an organization that combines various institutions (universities, high-tech companies, associations) that combine their capabilities to provide service to the broad array of entities around the world interested in the development of cannabis and cannabinoids as medicine.”
The collaboration is what brings ICCI’s mission to life.
“The main work of the ICCI is to provide scientific instruments to public and private institutions all over the world. The purpose is to enable scientific examination of the relation between bioactive cannabis compounds and the effect on the human organism in the treatment of specific syndromes and, in the future, systemic health disorders,” said the ICCI CEO Pavel Kubů.
The three areas of focus for ICCI’s research are Biomedicine, Life Science, and Policy Science. ICCI is using preclinical trials and observational research to fill in a knowledge gap for cannabis as an effective evidence-based medicine.
What about U.S. Cannabis Research?
Why is the country with the largest cannabis market in the world not on the list? Marijuana research in the United States has been stifled due to the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. Due to this designation by the federal government, scientists must obtain approval from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).
With this label on cannabis, any legal scientific research is based on a small pool of availability. Researchers seeking to study the effects of cannabis are currently limited to acquiring cannabis from one source in contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse – the University of Mississippi.
In recent years, there has been pressure to open up more pathways for cannabis research. The DEA has responded with promises of more licensing for research and a call for 30 percent more cannabis production over the previous year for research in 2020.
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