Researchers have published more than 32,000 scientific papers on marijuana over the past 10 years—including over 4,000 in 2023 alone—according to an analysis from NORML that again calls into question critics’ claims that cannabis is insufficiently studied to be legalized.
The advocacy organization’s analysis is based on keyword searches on the federal National Library of Medicine website PubMed.gov. This year marked the third in the row that cannabis-related papers totaled over 4,000 as researchers continue to explore risks and benefits amid the legalization movement.
“Despite claims by some that marijuana has yet to be subject to adequate scientific scrutiny, scientists’ interest in studying cannabis has increased exponentially in recent years, as has our understanding of the plant, its active constituents, their mechanisms of action, and their effects on both the user and upon society,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a blog post.
“It is time for politicians and others to stop assessing cannabis through the lens of ‘what we don’t know’ and instead start engaging in evidence-based discussions about marijuana and marijuana reform policies that are indicative of all that we do know,” he said.
“It is time for politicians and others to stop assessing cannabis through the lens of ‘what we don’t know’ & instead start engaging in evidence-based discussions about marijuana and marijuana reform policies that are indicative of all that we do know.” https://t.co/RR8MZsaEsP
— NORML (@NORML) December 19, 2023
The idea that cannabis hasn’t been studied enough often surfaces in legislative debates in states and Congress, typically echoed by legislators and officials seeking to block or delay reform.
In one key example, while President Joe Biden campaigned on modest cannabis reform, he’s justified his longstanding opposition to federal legalization in part by arguing that the issue needs to be further studied.
In reality, the scientific literature on marijuana is expansive—although advocates have expressed frustration with a seeming bias in federal research priorities that have historically favored investigations into the potential harms, rather than benefits, of cannabis. That’s started to change of late, however, NORML notes.
While 32,000 cannabis-related scientific papers in 10 years is an impressive number, it stands to reason that the total would be even greater were it not for the fact that marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which federal officials and scientists have frequently criticized as a major barrier to research.
Biden signed legislation into law last year that’s meant to streamline the research process—and an ongoing administrative review into cannabis scheduling that he directed could also result in a historic reclassification that consequently lifts research barriers. Nonetheless, there are still unique hurdles to studying the Schedule I drug.
In 2023, marijuana research topics have run the gamut, with a mix of private and government-funded studies that have explored usage trends, therapeutic applications, minor cannabinoids, drug substitution, legalization policy implications and more.
Recent examples include multiple studies indicating that state-level legalization has not translated into increased underage use, contradicting prohibitionist claims and bolster the idea that enacting regulated markets can effectively restrict youth access.
Studies have also revealed potential consequences of prohibitionist policies, including how states that continue to criminalize cannabis may be “unintentionally” promoting the use of unregulated delta-8 THC products, for instance.
Another recent scientific paper found that patients with chronic health conditions saw significant improvements in overall quality of life and reductions in fatigue during the first three months of medical marijuana use.
This is just a small sampling of 2023 studies that have looked at marijuana from numerous scientific, political, economic and cultural angles as more states enact legalization and congressional lawmakers work to advance federal reform.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently detailed how it’s evaluated more than 800 investigational new drug applications involving cannabis and cannabis-derived products that included ample scientific materials. The agency said that the period has seen profound changes in product form factors, cultural views and the legal landscape around cannabis.