How Cannabis Research in the US is STILL Sabotaged by the Government | A Recap of SXSW Talk by Sue Sisley, MD
Wondering why we don’t have definitive research on Cannabis, Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and the many other nuances of the marijuana plant? Why is no one sure if cannabis cures cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases that many claim they have used cannabis to recover from? We visited Sue Sisley’s talk at SXSW, “Cannabis Research Shackled by Politics Since 1968” to find out why this research isn’t happening yet (at least in the US) here is what we learned.
Sue wanted to stress that there IS cannabis research happening in the US, but most (if not all) is research on the bad effects, harmful effects, addiction, and other negative aspects of cannabis. Nothing on the efficacy of the plant for healing disease and other issues.
Sue Sisley, MD is an Arizona-based physician and researcher at the Scottsdale Research Institute. She was not a cannabis user or even a part of the cannabis industry for the majority of her life. When she developed breast cancer, she decided to refuse chemo and study cannabis on herself using high THC oil. She discovered a dramatic reduction in breast tumor cells and in further research on mice saw the same reduction in metastasis. Unfortunately, The University of Arizona (where she was working), was not in support of her researching cannabis and terminated her for trying. Lucky for Sue, this ended up in massive media coverage, bringing light to her cause and support from many recognized voices, like Dr. Andrew Weil.
Lets pause for a little history – Marijuana prohibition began in 1937 and was based on bad science and scare tactics that falsely claimed it was highly addictive, made users violent, and was fatal in overdose – all things we now know to be untrue (though there is still some debate on addiction). Because of this long-lasting prohibition, Sue and her colleagues decided they needed to take action. They created organizations like Doctors for Cannabis regulation (DFCR.org) which attempts to create a safe space for doctors to talk openly about the means to end cannabis prohibition and the harms that have come from criminalizing this plant. She also created a pact called Americans for Scientific Freedom.
With support from her colleagues, media outlets, and huge grants from the legalized state of Colorado, Sue was able to get over some of her hurdles and start researching at Scottdale Research Institute. Sue and her team ( In partnership with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) are focusing now on PTSD and are the 1st U.S. controlled clinical trial evaluating medical cannabis as PTSD Treatment.
I mentioned a grant from Colorado – Colorado offered 10 million of cannabis tax dollar to research for the efficacy of cannabis for issues like:
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Parkinsons Disease
- Pediatric Epilepsy
- Pediatric Brain Tumors
- Analgesic Efficacy of Cannabis versus Oxycodone
This is great news, but just because Sue and other researchers got some of this money for research, it doesn’t mean they are able to do it as effectively as they would like. Despite the funding, the government is not making it easy for them to research the topic. Sue and her team had to fight the government for 7 years to get the coveted DEA schedule 1 license. The license (called the golden ticket by scientists) allows researches the privilege of purchasing cannabis from the government.
After finally being granted the license, Sue immediately ordered 8 kilos of cannabis from the DEA. Sadly, she was disappointed by what they sent. The DEA sent cannabis that had been frozen in a locker for years, certainly not fresh flower. The cannabis was moldy, and ground up into a fine powder with loads of seeds and stems mixed in. The DEA claims this substance is GMP or Good Manufacturing Practice, that each batch will be the same. This kind of moldy cannabis is not at all the same as researching fresh cannabis flowers with intricate cannabinoid and terpene profiles. Unfortunately, the results of Sue’s research could be distorted by the poor quality product.
This kind of regulation is baffling and marijuana faces more regulation than any other schedule 1 drug including heroin, LSD, or cocaine. Even with cannabis being legalized in many states medically or otherwise, the government is still regulating it just as hard as ever. To break this down, in order to study a controlled substance (heroin, cocaine, LSD) a researcher has to go through 3 entities: The FDA, The DEA, and the IRB. But for some insane reason, they added two extra branches: The PHS and NIDA. According to Sue, NIDA is one of the biggest problems/roadblocks in cannabis research because of the huge Monopoly they have.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is the sole entity licensed by the government to grow cannabis. As we mentioned earlier, the marijuana offered by NIDA is moldy and ground into an almost useless powder. But even worse, it has also been found to have inaccurate THC/CBD content labeling by 3rd party testers hired by Sue and her team. Yet NIDA has still retained a monopoly on growing researchable cannabis in the US since 1968.
According to Sue, as long as this DEA/NIDA Monopoly exists, it will NOT be possible to develop FDA approved prescription medicine with the cannabis flower.
As a US citizen and a believer of plant medicine, I think it is outrageous that the government will not allow proper science to occur. Legalization or not, researchers should have access to the plant to discover its true potential or its true harms. We are gearing up to interview Sue Sisley on our podcast in a few weeks, if you have any questions or would like to help Sue and ourselves fight this battle, please reach out!