As legal weed looms, barriers to research still standing

published on April 9, 2017 by Kate Allen in

After punching a string of numbers into a bolted-down, fireproof, alarm-protected safe — the location of which can’t be divulged for security reasons — Steven Laviolette pulls out a tiny vial. Inside that vial is an even tinier dab of dark tar. The tar is purified THC, the mind-altering compound in marijuana.

The street price for a gram of weed is about $10. A gram of this stuff costs about $2,000, not counting the cost of the researcher’s time acquiring it. Laviolette, a professor in the department of Anatomy and Cell Biology and Psychiatry at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, studies the effects of marijuana on the brain. His lab is investigating both some of the troubling brain changes associated with THC, and also — a rapidly growing avenue of research — the very different and perhaps protective brain changes associated with cannabidiol, or CBD, another compound found in the plant.

“Really, science has been stuck for past 80 or 90 years or so, unable to do many of these tests,” says M-J Milloy, a professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of British Columbia and a research scientist at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, who studies the effects of cannabis use among people living with HIV/AIDS.

“Hopefully when it is legalized many of those barriers will fall away.”

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