In the United States, for example, the country went from embracing cannabis as common plant-based medicine in the 19th century to prohibiting it as a dangerous controlled substance in the 20th century. The global history of the legality of cannabis is complex, and often gets in the way of scientific research being done.
Throughout the past several decades, the United States has begun to transform its policy regarding the legality of cannabis, both for recreational and medical purposes. However, the evolution of scientific research is unfortunately dependent on how cannabis is governed, as this impacts restrictions and funding, among other details. Research itself has focused on this exact topic, further exploring the impact that legalizing and regulating cannabis has on studies evaluating the effects and uses of cannabis itself.
There are four types of cannabis policies (prohibition, decriminalization, medical marijuana, and legalization) and each dictate how scientific research can be conducted. The specifications behind cannabis legislation vary by jurisdiction. Generally speaking, where cannabis is legalized recreationally, it also is legalized medically. However, in areas where cannabis is prohibited on a recreational level, whether or not it is permissible for medical purposes is entirely dependent on the specific country or state.
There are four types of cannabis policies (prohibition, decriminalization, medical marijuana, and legalization) and each dictate how scientific research can be conducted.
The majority of cannabis policies are regulated by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (ratified in 1961) and via the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Countries with legalized medical cannabis include Argentina, Bermuda, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, Thailand and Uruguay, among others.
Israel has emerged as a pioneer in cannabis research and was one of the first countries to legalize medical marijuana. In Israel, it still remains illegal for recreational use, but the government is supportive of its country's research endeavors. In fact, Israel is one of three countries, alongside Canada and the Netherlands, with a government-sponsored cannabis program. The United States has begun outsourcing its research to Israel, where the infrastructure in place allows for such studies to be conducted in a less restrictive, less expensive and more effective manners. There are a limited amount of countries where it is permissible to conduct clinical research involving human subjects in the first place, which is another draw of outsourcing research.
As Israel continues to establish itself as a leader in medical cannabis research, with more clinical trials currently underway than in any other part of the world, other countries are naturally looking for ways to increase their efforts (and their funding). Spain, Canada, Czech Republic, Uruguay and the Netherlands are among the countries with increasingly advancing medical research programs.
Being able to study cannabis in a country free of regulations, further opens up opportunities for research and influences our level of understanding of the plant and its effects. As restrictions imposed by governments around the world continue to loosen and we learn more about cannabis, it will only help ensure that it is being regulated properly and fairly, as well as helping to provide others with the resources needed to be well-informed about how to best harness the healing and therapeutic benefits of cannabinoid-rich medicine.