If you see a Dodge Sprinter van meandering around Boulder, CO, look closely again. It may not be just a random cargo van. It could be the CannaVan – the avant-garde research lab that is studying cannabis in Colorado.
This CannaVan has also gained popularity by the name of Mystery Machine. The researchers are making the most of it as mobile research lab that drives around federal cannabis laws.
And, why are they doing so? Because in the entire United States of America there exists, till date, one single source of cannabis for clinical research. This source is a farm spread across 12 acres in the University of Mississippi. The National Institute on Drug Abuse manages it. And, to be able to procure a drug for research, one needs to go through mounds of paperwork.
So, whatever research you need it for, regarding the uses of medical marijuana or for drug abuse, you need to “Pass through all those hoops and your government marijuana arrives in the mail,” explains Cinnamon Bidwell, a researcher at the University of Colorado Change Lab.
So, How is CannaVan Helping in Research on Cannabis in Colorado?
One problem that each researcher of marijuana will agree to is that the government marijuana isn’t potent stuff at all.
Bidwell reveals that the potent percentage of THC (the psychoactive compound in pot) in the government samples is 5% to 6% on an average. But, if we look at the recent studies, this average THC potency in Colorado is as high as 16.5% in recreational marijuana, conformed Bidwell.
So, after recreational marijuana was legalized in the state, Kent Hutchison, another researcher at Change Lab started looking for alternative ways to procure and study more potent cannabis in Colorado.
They started with the thought that they could have people use marijuana and they could study the effects. However, the request wasn’t approved when it came to the Colorado University, Boulder legal team. The grants (over $300 million a year) that are given by the federal government could be taken away if the research scholars failed to follow the law to the letter. The implication was that the scholars did not have the liberty to buy, use, or even touch the cannabis Colorado shops were selling.
So, what Hutchison and his team came up with next was, “What we came up with is we can’t bring people to the lab and have them use cannabis, but we can bring the lab to the people.”
And, so was born the CannaVan.
How Does CannaVan Work?
Regular cannabis Colorado users get a particular kind of pot assigned from the scientists of the Change Lab. The participants go and buy that particular variety on their own. The CannaVan arrives, they show up sober, and are tested for an array of parameters. Then they can use the pot, as much as they want to, and return for the same tests again.
Here is how it goes further:
They need to pass the breathalyzer test for assuring the no alcohol criterion. Then the blood is tested for THC level. Then they memorize a grocery list followed by some cognitive testing on an iPad, then a balance test, followed by simulated driving test. The last thing they need to do is recall the list that they had read first.
Reward for the participant – $150
Bidwell considers this novel way of studying cannabis in Colorado as clearly advantageous in the current legal scenario. But he also agrees that is a flip side to it, as Bidwell explains, “We don’t control the dose. We don’t control how they take it. That means there’s a lot of variability in the data.”
However, even with such discrepancies, the research is still an answer to the urgency that the legalization of recreational marijuana has created.