medical cannabisPrior to the release of this recent report, “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids,” the last time the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) released a cannabis report was in 1999. That report, says Sean Hennessy, a member of the NAS panel, focused largely on medical use.

In the past dozen and a half years, a lot has changed of course. The political landscape has evolved considerably; cannabis products are more readily available; there are higher concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis plants; new dosage forms are available; and a lot of new research has been published.

“The 2017 report was written with much of these developments in mind,” says Dr. Hennessy, professor of epidemiology in biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Nearly 100 conclusions make up the 2017 report, which “makes recommendations for an agenda to help expand and improve cannabis research efforts and better inform future public health decisions,” according to the NAS.

There are four main takeaways from the report, according to Dr. Hennessy:

  1. There is not enough data to answer a number of important questions, in a several areas, about the effects that cannabis and cannabis-based products have. There is a need for more research and data.
  2. That said, there is reliable evidence that demonstrates that smoking cannabis can adversely affect breathing problems, exacerbate the operation of motor vehicles (leading to crashes, for example), and cause pregnant women who smoke cannabis to give birth to babies that are dangerously small and light.
  3. Early use of cannabis is associated with higher risk of problematic use of the drug later on in life.
  4. There is evidence that some patients derive benefits from certain cannabis-based medical products, mostly those that are administered orally. Those benefits tended to be for those with nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy for cancer, some chronic pain, and muscle spasticity (stiffness) in multiple sclerosis patients.

Although cannabis has increasingly become legalized in the U.S., which ought to increase research opportunities for Dr. Hennessy and his colleagues, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continues to list it as a schedule 1 agent.

“That makes it very difficult for researchers to study its benefits,” he says.