US Government Issues Low Quality, Moldy Cannabis to Scientists and Medical Researchers
The single source of cannabis for medical research in the US, which happens to be the federal government, may need to revisit their growing methods and possibly hire a mold specialist to oversee their Mississippi-based farm. This concern surfaced after scientists received staggeringly low quality batches of government-grown cannabis for clinical trials.
To make matters worse, a handful of researchers, including Dr. Sue Sisley, a doctor conducting a study on the effects of cannabis on veterans diagnosed with PTSD, received samples in a non-traditional, powder-like form with some batches containing traces of mold and high levels of total yeast.
“It didn’t resemble cannabis. It didn’t smell like cannabis,” said Sisley, who is also a lead researcher at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). “They weren’t able to produce what we were asking for.”
Based on pics of the batch received by MAPS, federal research-grade cannabis appears to be very leafy and dry, with minimal trichome formation. After a series of tests, scientists found the samples to contain roughly eight percent THC – significantly lower than the 13 percent THC potency standard promised by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). By comparison, commercial-grade cannabis from Colorado contains around 19-30 percent THC.
“A researcher in Dr. Sue Sisley’s lab prepares to weigh a sample of marijuana received from the federal facility responsible for growing marijuana for clinical research. Photo courtesy of MAPS.“
So where did these schwag NIDA strains come from?
Under a NIDA contract, government-grade cannabis is grown on a secure 12-acre farm in Mississippi. In this facility, cannabis is grown, harvested, stored and shipped out in bulk to research institutions across the country. NIDA oversees operations on the plot of land, which is sadly the only federally-organized, legal cannabis farm in the US. According to the International Business Times, the NIDA farm has been operating since 1968.
A spike in demand for cannabis by researchers may have led to poor quality control, forcing federal growers to push out undesirable batches. In 2016, the agency completed 39 orders for government-grade cannabis from 10 different medical groups – a noticeable increase from 23 requests in the previous year.
As for the mold and yeast found on the samples, both sides raised interesting points surrounding the tainted batches. NIDA claims the shipments were mishandled by the scientists. Rebecca Matthews, a clinical researcher for MAPS, debunked such accusations, stating that the samples “never left the freezer before testing.”
The main issue with utilizing low quality cannabis for clinical research is discrepancy with what’s currently available in commercial markets. Federal-grade cannabis, which Dr. Sisley found to contain less chemical diversity, is not suitable for conducting real-world studies, simply because it’s not what patients are buying from medical dispensaries.
“In two decades of smoking weed, I’ve never seen anything that looks like that,” explained Jake Browne from the Denver Post. “People typically smoke the flower of the plant, but here you can clearly see stems and leaves in there as well, parts that should be discarded. Inhaling that would be like eating an apple, including the seeds inside it and the branch it grew on.”
On a positive note, this concern may pressure the DEA to move forward with their plan to expand the federal growing program. Last year, the organization announced it would allow other growers to provide cannabis to scientists and clinical researchers.