The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) announced it would be setting the new standard of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) at 5mg for cannabis research. It was reported that this new standard would take effect immediately. NIDA stated that “inconsistency in measurement and reporting of THC exposure has been a major limitation in studies of cannabis use, making it difficult to compare findings among studies” and that “a standardized measure of THC in cannabis products is necessary to advance research by providing greater comparability across studies of both its adverse effects and potential medical uses”.
What is NIDA and What is its Authority?
NIDA is “a federal scientific research institute under the National Institutes of Health (NIH)”. The NIH explains that NIDA is the largest supporter of not only American but the world’s research on drug use and addiction. The organization funds scientific research which aims to address the fundamental questions concerning drugs and addiction. The NIH explains that “our mission is to advance science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction and to apply that knowledge to improve individual and public health”.
The notice from NIDA explained that “a standard THC unit is defined as any formulation of cannabis plant material or extract that contains 5 milligrams of THC”. They decided on the 5mg standard unit having considered the extensive input of stakeholders, experts, and the general public. They go on to state that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “recognizes that the same quantity of THC may have different effects based on the route of administration, other product constitutes, an individual’s genetic make-up and metabolic factors, prior exposure to cannabis and other factors”.
Despite such factors that could impact the results of research, the goal remains to standardize the unit in order to “increase comparability of cannabis research studies”. The notice also explains that establishing a standard unit “that can be used to quantify THC exposure” is a high priority of NIDA and the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse.
The notice goes on to inform that the 5mg standard is not intended to prescribe the quantity of THC used in research and that “investigators are free to use more or less than 5mg of THC as appropriate for their study”. This guide on a standard unit is meant to be applied “where THC is a focus of the research” and where a “justification should be provided for research that does not propose to use the standard unit”.
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If researchers see fit to make use of more or less than the standard unit, the researchers should still record and report their work by making reference to the standard measurement (i.e it “does not limit the quantity of THC permissible in cannabis research, only the way in which investigators must record and report their work”).
The Importance of a Standard Unit in Research
There are many reasons why a standardized unit for THC dosing is beneficial, the following will shed light on what the standardization of THC in research can do for us. Simply put, “a standardized measure for 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content in cannabis products is necessary to advance research both on the adverse effects of cannabis (e.g. risks for brain development, mental illness and addiction) and on the drug’s potential medical uses”.
A journal article written by Nora Volkow and Susan Weiss explains that taking steps to standardized cannabis doses will “help to guide consumers towards safer patterns of cannabis use”. Using 5mg during research will improve our understanding of what to expect from such a dose, which then enables the cannabis industry to better inform the consumers.
Using a “standard is a prerequisite for comparing the effects of various cannabis products on THC bioavailability, pharmacokinetics and pharmacological effects, which is knowledge fundamental to studies pertaining to medical use of cannabis”. The article also explains that it offers up a chance to get rid of discrepancies among research results- after considering the impact of the consumption method of course.
Volkow and Weiss also mention the work of Tom Freeman and Valentina Lorenzetti who proposed the same standard dose of THC for cannabis due to the fact that that the dosage is associated with the minimal dosage for effectiveness which is “devoid of adverse effects”. This is important considering the fact that high potency products aren’t for everyone and that high potency products can increase anxiety.
While the likes of Volkow, Weiss, Freeman and Lorenzetti have proposed this in 2020, the fact NIDA has now set the same standard and the fact that their support has a far reach means that we are one step closer to have the foundation of knowledge needed to finally deschedule cannabis on a federal level.
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