Canada’s legalization of cannabis may someday be seen as a turning point for science, when laboratory doors were opened for scientists to advance our understanding of the ancient plant using modern research tools to reveal insights at a molecular and genetic level.
No doubt that a half century of prohibition has shaped public perceptions that will take years to change. This is where science can get out in front and where Canadian events like “Grow Up” help foster scientific dialog, share insights and evidence.
Initially, the industry is turning to scientific technology and technical talent to support cultivation quality control and comply with Health Canada regulations by using instrumentation proven in other industries like food safety to help ensure cannabis products are certified free of contaminants such as bacteria, pesticides, heavy metals and residual solvents.
But beyond the important safety questions, the research and medical communities have big questions: What is the phytochemical makeup of cannabis and its true potential? How can results and outcomes be reproducible? This is where the most sophisticated instruments can help science delve deeper than ever before using advanced mass spectrometry, next-gen DNA sequencing and powerful cloud computing.
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The Scientist magazine recently talked to M-J Milloy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and the University of British Columbia who said, “The hope is that legalization of cannabis will take the shackles off scientific inquiry…to ask and answer the sort of questions we should have been asking twenty, thirty, forty years ago.”
In Canada and around the world, there’s a growing number of scientists looking deeper and seeking evidence of therapeutic uses through trials, studies and investigation. Canada has had a head start along with a handful of other countries where scientists have pushed research forward – like in Israel and other countries across Europe where labs have been investigating cannabis – in some cases for decades.
Unlike any other plant or topic, cannabis stirs up a wide range of reactions from concerns to advocacy. But one thing everyone agrees about cannabis is that science is needed now – more than ever before.