August 22, 2019

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Calif Bureau of Cannabis Control has been sitting on $20 million in research funds while cannabis vapers get weird lung disease

At a time when there is growing concern about severe lung disease in young people who have been using e-cigarettes (some with nicotine, some with cannabis), the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) has been sitting on $20 million in research funds allocated under California Prop 64. 

This is of particular concern because all the cases in California have involved vaping cannabis

It is not clear if the problem is due to adulterated cannabis – all the cases in California were from people who bought he product on the illicit market – issues related to vaping per se (like inhaling propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, metal ions from the e-cig heater) or some combination of factors. 

We do know that e-cigarettes have a lot of bad effects on lungs and that these factors are not just due to nicotine.

My colleagues who have been trying to do research on health effects of cannabis have been particularly frustrated by the fact that BCC has been sitting on the research money that could have supported investigations that would have developed the knowledge to understand this sudden emergency.

BCC has said that it has been busy getting the legal market off the ground and research just wasn’t a priority.

A related problem is that BCC has a fundamental conflict of interest in managing a research program on health effects of cannabis.

BCC’s primary mission is promoting and regulating the legal cannabis business.  Pesky research showing adverse health effects would be bad for business.  In addition, BCC’s advisory structure includes business interests, something that would be clearly viewed as a conflict of interest for tobacco.

The University of California, which runs the Tobacco Related Disease Research Program, AIDS research program, and breast cancer program for the State of California has been offering to enter into an interagency agreement with BCC to manage the cannabis program for a couple years.

This makes a lot of sense because UC knows how to run such programs.  It would guarantee high quality and independence and keep costs down because UC already has the needed infrastructure.

But BCC has not been interested.

It is time for policymakers and the public to tell BCC to make such an arrangement so that we can get truly independent research going.

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