According to a report from PBS, at least some of the medical marijuana grown for research purposes at the federally sanctioned University of Mississippi is tainted by total yeast and mold (TYM) along with lead.
Doctor Sue Sisley, a cannabis researcher and recipient of a $2 million grant to study Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and marijuana, waited 20 months to receive her first care package of research marijuana last year. When she opened up that package, she didn’t recognize the material: she likened it to green talcum powder.
“It didn’t resemble cannabis. It didn’t smell like cannabis,” Sisley told PBS.
The cannabis pictured in the PBS report looks like a mixture of shake (dried, crumbled powder) and brick weed — nothing like modern medical marijuana consumers find in dispensaries. This appearance alone was enough to warrant further investigation. Sisley sent the samples out for further testing, which delayed her study an additional four months.
The TYM and lead levels were first found by a testing facility in Colorado. Thereafter, to confirm the results, Sisley had a lab at the University of Illinois-Chicago test the same cannabis — and discovered the same results.
However, since both tests determined the levels of YSL and mold in the cannabis were below hazardous, Sisley determined the cannabis safe for human consumption and was then able to proceed with the study. Sisley didn’t exactly have any alternatives; if she went into a dispensary in Arizona and purchased high-grade medical marijuana for her study, she would be violating her federal grant.
Along the contamination testing, a potency test in Colorado found another major discrepancy. The cannabis Sisley received was labeled at 15% THC by the University of Mississippi; the Colorado potency test found the same sample tested at 8% THC.
The overseeing government agency, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), claims this incident represents the first time any researchers have complained about the lack of quality in their cannabis. Still, this leakage of photos and first-ever deep dive into the quality of government-grown cannabis by a mainstream news outlet is telling.
For Rick Doblin, director of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), these findings are emblematic of NIDA’s failures. Doblin believes that these results,
“Show that NIDA is completely inadequate as a source of marijuana for drug development research. They’re in no way capable of assuming the rights and responsibilities for handling a drug that we’re hoping to be approved by the FDA as prescription medicine.” [PBS]
Since 1970, the University of Mississippi has been the DEA’s lone source of clinically studied medical cannabis. Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told the federal government to cultivate 1,000 pounds of cannabis in 2017 for the “estimated medical, scientific, research, and industrial needs of the United States.”
In August of 2016, the DEA’s website announced it would accept new growers to register as federal cultivators. There have not been any known updates on which growers or institutions have been accepted into the expanded program.
Perhaps the government’s future cultivators will bring some consistency — and cannabis that looks like cannabis — to these federally funded studies.