While research in the United States has been sharply restricted by the federal prohibition on cannabis in the past, recent discoveries have increased interest among scientists in the more than 100 different cannabinoids so far identified in the cannabis plant. The International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) was formally incorporated as a scientific research organization in 1991, and since its incorporation the membership has more than tripled. The International Association for Cannabis as Medicine (IACM), founded in 2000, publishes a bi-weekly newsletter and holds a bi-annual symposium to highlight emerging clinical research concerning cannabis therapeutics. The University of California established the Center for Medical Cannabis Research (CMCR) in 2001 to conduct scientific studies to ascertain the general medical safety and efficacy of cannabis products and examine alternative forms of cannabis administration. In 2010, the CMCR issued a report on the 14 clinical studies it has conducted, most of which were FDA-approved, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies that have demonstrated that cannabis can control pain, in some cases better than the available alternatives.
To date, more than 15,000 modern peer-reviewed scientific articles on the chemistry and pharmacology of cannabis and cannabinoids have been published, as well as more than 2,000 articles on the body’s natural endocannabinoids. In recent years, more placebo-controlled human trials have also been conducted.
A 2009 review of clinical studies conducted over a 38-year period, found that “nearly all of the 33 published controlled clinical trials conducted in the United States have shown significant and measurable benefits in subjects receiving the treatment.” The review’s authors note that cannabinoids have the capacity for analgesia through neuromodulation in ascending and descending pain pathways, neuroprotection, and anti-inflammatory mechanisms—all of which indicates that the cannabinoids found in cannabis have applications in managing chronic pain, muscle spasticity, cachexia, and other debilitating conditions.
Currently, cannabis is most often recommended as complementary or adjunct medicine. But there is a substantial consensus among experts in the relevant disciplines, including the American College of Physicians, that cannabis and cannabis-based medicines have therapeutic properties that could potentially treat a variety of serious and chronic illness.