With the recent efforts by many states, including Nevada, to legalize the sale and use of cannabis for both recreational and medicinal purposes, much interest has been generated concerning the potential avenues for scientific and scholarly research in this area. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas supports research that is done in accordance with all state and federal laws governing cannabis and its derivatives.
In support of this effort, the Office of Research Integrity formed the Research Advisory Committee on Cannabis and Hemp (RACCH). This committee is charged with assisting investigators in navigating the complex regulatory landscape associated with cannabis and hemp research. Any University researcher wishing to conduct research with or involving Cannabis sativa (hemp/marijuana/CBD) must first contact the RACCH at RACCH@unlv.edu to seek guidance. The following Frequently Asked Questions provide guidance and clarification for those wishing to better understand the potential pathways for research and the basic laws and rules governing research in this area. Further and specific inquiries can be sent to RACCH@unlv.edu.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is hemp?
Hemp is defined as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salt isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol [delta-9 THC] concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis” (Section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946).
What is marijuana?
Marijuana is defined as “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin. Such term does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted there from), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination” (21 U.S.C§802(16)).
What is CBD?
CBD is among the subclasses of cannabinoids and their 66 known variants in Cannabis sativ Cannabinoids refer to the unique chemical compounds produced in the plant, which are known to exhibit a range of effects. CBD, unlike THC, is not considered to be psychoactive (CRS 2019:6).
Can I conduct research with marijuana or marijuana products?
In accordance with federal laws, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I drug with no medicinal value. This means that research with marijuana (through any interaction, including handling) requires a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Schedule I license.
Without a DEA Schedule I license, no interventional research may occur; however, UNLV researchers can undertake observational studies where UNLV personnel do not procure, provide, or handle marijuana or marijuana products. Additionally, to abide by the Drug-Free Schools and Community Act and Drug-Free Workplace Act, investigators may not enroll UNLV personnel or students as participants in studies involving marijuana, and no research studies may allow for the possession or use of marijuana on University-owned property.
UNLV researchers may conduct observational designed studies that follow state and federal laws. Similar to any other study, all standard compliance mechanisms and policies apply, including possible review and oversight by the University’s bioethics compliance committees, including: the Institutional Review Board (IRB), the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, and the Institutional Biosafety Committee.
Can I accept any funding for marijuana related research?
No funding or support may be sought or gifted from an individual or entity with any relationship to the marijuana industry.
Can I conduct research with hemp?
Yes, UNLV researchers may conduct research using hemp products that meet the definition noted in earlier in the FAQ (see “What is hemp?”). The Farm Bill has upheld that investigators may conduct research using hemp and its derivatives, so long as that product is lawfully produced and has a delta-9 THC level of not more than 0.3 percent.
Researchers wishing to cultivate hemp may do after registering for a license with the Nevada Department of Agriculture.
Can I conduct research with CBD?
Yes, UNLV researchers may conduct research using CBD and CBD products that contain less than 0.3 percent delta-9 THC and are grown lawfully from industrial hemp. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) retains regulatory oversight over CBD and hemp-derived products and has noted claims of any therapeutic benefit associated with these products is in violation of law absent FDA approval. Researchers wishing to a study any medicinal or therapeutic value of these products must apply for an FDA Investigational New Drug (for use on or with humans) or an FDA Investigational New Animal Drug (for use on or with animals).
Can I conduct research that involves the consumption of hemp/CBD?
Yes, however, the hemp/CBD product must be derived from lawfully grown, manufactured, and registered with the Nevada Department of Agriculture. Hemp and CBD products cannot be imported across state lines. Any research involving consumption of hemp/CBD must also receive appropriate IRB/IACUC approvals.
Can I accept any funding for hemp/CBD related research?
Yes, so long as the funding or support does not involve any individual or entity associated with the marijuana industry.
A few caveats about informed consent in studies with human participants:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) oversees the sale and transfer of firearms through Form 4473: Firearms Transaction Record. Despite many states’ legalization of marijuana and related products for medicinal and/or recreational use, federal law still prohibits the use and consumption of marijuana Form 4473, Question 11 C asks the following:
Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance? Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.
Any research participants should be informed that participating in research using marijuana or a marijuana product may result in an inability to own, purchase, or transfer a firearm.
Although Nevada recently banned the rejection of job applicants for failing a pre-employment drug screen for marijuana use, certain categories or classification of workers cannot be exempted. As such, it remains the responsibility of all researchers to properly inform any human participants about the possibility of a positive result on a pre-employment drug screen.