Research Topic

Ethical, Legal, and Social Considerations in Medicinal Marijuana Research

About this Research Topic

With many states and countries loosening regulations on the sale and use of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal purposes, we are seeing an increase in basic science and applied research on marijuana. There is also a lot of interest around the medical potential of marijuana and the technologies designed to enable them. But even without the hype, marijuana presents a particular conundrum for regulators. There are at least three diverse uses of marijuana that each require a different regulatory system: recreational use, palliative care, and active disease fighting. The patient overlap between the three regulatory systems is just one hurdle to overcome in the regulation of marijuana research.

Marijuana’s long-time association with illegal drug use and its position within Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, among other national and international laws, creates a stigma that must also be overcome, particularly for researchers when seeking out publication and funding opportunities or convincing their academic institution to allow them to pursue marijuana related lines of research. The abovementioned limitations are particularly ethically problematic.

Perhaps most difficult and onerous aspect of the research is the lack of consistency among different varietals regarding their cannabinoid makeup. Two strains may provide vastly different medical benefits, or produce radically different molecular outcomes, such as within cancer cells. Even the strains themselves may exhibit different medicinal properties depending on growing conditions. This requires collaborative efforts between outside growers and researchers to a degree that likely does not exist in other areas of research. This Research Topic looks to assess the abovementioned aspects together with additional ones such as, ethical, legal, and social concerns associated with this emerging area of medicine and biotechnology.

The goal of this Research Topic is to investigate three main areas in medical marijuana research. The first area being the ethical implications of medical marijuana research, particularly given its role as both a recreational as well as potentially medicinal drug. The stigma associated with using the plant as medicine may necessitate researchers to not publicize their research. Further, researchers may be wary of clinical trials on socio-economic demographics that they might perceive to be potential abusers of the drug, or on individuals that may have struggled with addiction in the past.

Second are the legal considerations of medical marijuana research, including limitations placed on researchers by governments, including storage requirements, data requirements, notwithstanding patient privacy, and difficulties sourcing the medication.

Third are the social aspects of medical marijuana research, especially societal stigmas still associated with the use of marijuana as a medication as a limitation on finding patients and funding for basic-science and clinical research. Perceptions of the drug within relevant funding and regulatory agencies might also hamper research and development.

This Research Topic welcomes all article types. Research from a variety of social, medical, and policy focused disciplines is encouraged. We invite articles covering the following themes involving medical marijuana research, but is not limited to:

• Ethical implications of research and developments.
• Use of real-world data for drug assessment.
• Legal considerations relating to international treaties and local laws.
• Social aspects related to the stigma of using and researching marijuana.
• Practical limitations associated with the lack of standardization of the plant or obtaining research funding where use of the plant may still be considered illegal or undesirable.
• Political considerations associated with marijuana research.
• Assessment and use of marijuana in various populations.
• Ethical and legal limitations on supply and development.

Dr. Marcel Bonn-Miller is VP of Human and Animal Research at Canopy Growth Corporation. The other Topic Editor declares no competing interests with regards to the Research Topic subject.


Keywords: Marijuana, Medical Marijuana, ELSI, RRI, Regulations, Schedule I


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

With many states and countries loosening regulations on the sale and use of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal purposes, we are seeing an increase in basic science and applied research on marijuana. There is also a lot of interest around the medical potential of marijuana and the technologies designed to enable them. But even without the hype, marijuana presents a particular conundrum for regulators. There are at least three diverse uses of marijuana that each require a different regulatory system: recreational use, palliative care, and active disease fighting. The patient overlap between the three regulatory systems is just one hurdle to overcome in the regulation of marijuana research.

Marijuana’s long-time association with illegal drug use and its position within Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, among other national and international laws, creates a stigma that must also be overcome, particularly for researchers when seeking out publication and funding opportunities or convincing their academic institution to allow them to pursue marijuana related lines of research. The abovementioned limitations are particularly ethically problematic.

Perhaps most difficult and onerous aspect of the research is the lack of consistency among different varietals regarding their cannabinoid makeup. Two strains may provide vastly different medical benefits, or produce radically different molecular outcomes, such as within cancer cells. Even the strains themselves may exhibit different medicinal properties depending on growing conditions. This requires collaborative efforts between outside growers and researchers to a degree that likely does not exist in other areas of research. This Research Topic looks to assess the abovementioned aspects together with additional ones such as, ethical, legal, and social concerns associated with this emerging area of medicine and biotechnology.

The goal of this Research Topic is to investigate three main areas in medical marijuana research. The first area being the ethical implications of medical marijuana research, particularly given its role as both a recreational as well as potentially medicinal drug. The stigma associated with using the plant as medicine may necessitate researchers to not publicize their research. Further, researchers may be wary of clinical trials on socio-economic demographics that they might perceive to be potential abusers of the drug, or on individuals that may have struggled with addiction in the past.

Second are the legal considerations of medical marijuana research, including limitations placed on researchers by governments, including storage requirements, data requirements, notwithstanding patient privacy, and difficulties sourcing the medication.

Third are the social aspects of medical marijuana research, especially societal stigmas still associated with the use of marijuana as a medication as a limitation on finding patients and funding for basic-science and clinical research. Perceptions of the drug within relevant funding and regulatory agencies might also hamper research and development.

This Research Topic welcomes all article types. Research from a variety of social, medical, and policy focused disciplines is encouraged. We invite articles covering the following themes involving medical marijuana research, but is not limited to:

• Ethical implications of research and developments.
• Use of real-world data for drug assessment.
• Legal considerations relating to international treaties and local laws.
• Social aspects related to the stigma of using and researching marijuana.
• Practical limitations associated with the lack of standardization of the plant or obtaining research funding where use of the plant may still be considered illegal or undesirable.
• Political considerations associated with marijuana research.
• Assessment and use of marijuana in various populations.
• Ethical and legal limitations on supply and development.

Dr. Marcel Bonn-Miller is VP of Human and Animal Research at Canopy Growth Corporation. The other Topic Editor declares no competing interests with regards to the Research Topic subject.


Keywords: Marijuana, Medical Marijuana, ELSI, RRI, Regulations, Schedule I


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

31 May 2021 Abstract
31 August 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

31 May 2021 Abstract
31 August 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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