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November 9, 2012

Slate's Explainer: How do you get into a marijuana study?

(Continued)

If you don't want to take a chance on landing in the placebo group — or if you don't happen to live in Iowa — there are other options. Researchers in Baltimore are studying how traces of cannabis appear in saliva. They're looking for people who smoke marijuana at least twice a month to come in, smoke a joint, then provide blood, urine and saliva samples. There is no control group, so all participants will score weed. You would have to stay at the testing center for six hours after smoking and pass a coordination and balance test before leaving.

If you like a little pain with your pleasure, the "Cannabinoid Modulation of Pain" study at Yale might interest you. (Most cannabis studies are conducted at colleges and universities, which happen to have plenty of qualified and willing participants.) Participants will have capsaicin — the chemical responsible for chili pepper heat — applied topically, then receive a dose of cannabis to determine if it dulls the burn.

The majority of cannabis studies involve therapeutic use. Over the past 11 years, the Center for Medical Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, has investigated the drug's potential to help people suffering from multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and AIDS. A significant portion of the center's funding went toward navigating the approval process. Before a marijuana study can get going, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Drug Enforcement Administration have to give their approval. It usually takes at least a year before the government will agree to release some of its marijuana supply — all of which is grown at the University of Mississippi. The drug arrives in the form of cigarettes, which contain varying amounts of cannabis. (The placebo cigarettes are marijuana-free.) Although the California state-funded center was able to win approval for all of its studies, investigators with fewer resources and institutional backing have complained that getting approval is extremely difficult.

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Got a question about today's news? ask-the-explainer@yahoo.com.

Explainer thanks Igor Grant of the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research.

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