As more states legalize recreational cannabis use, the demand for cannabinoid research to better understand public health implications and inform growth and distribution policy grows. Despite the urgency of this need, studies researching cannabis varieties are few and far between. The cause of this supply-demand research mismatch is entirely due to the federal drug classification of cannabis.

The U.S Drug Enforcement Administration categorizes controlled substances into five ranked classes. Classification is based on two criteria: potential for abuse, determined by the addictive nature of the substance, and medical value. 

Schedule Five drugs are considered as having the lowest potential for abuse and greatest medical value. On the other side of the spectrum, Schedule One drugs are regarded as having the highest potential for abuse and are considered to have no medical value. Cannabis lies in the Schedule One category, classed among drugs like heroin and ecstasy regardless of THC value. As a point of reference, cocaine is nestled in the Schedule Two category, meaning that it is federally recognized as having less potential for abuse and greater medical value than cannabis.

In 2018, the Farm Bill modified the federal definition of cannabis by defining cannabinoids as either marijuana, meaning it has over 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, or industrial hemp (under 0.3% content). Among other researchers, The National Council of State Legislatures argues that the 0.3 is unfounded in scientific evidence and is an arbitrary assignment.

 The classification of the drug that people use recreationally and casually has left people puzzled. In a journal article outlining the conundrum of this classification, Sandler et. al wrote, “By regulating hemp seed as a controlled substance, the [Department of Justice] DOJ impedes those states that seek to plant and do research on Cannabis as a viable crop.”

 This Schedule One classification requires that researchers obtain a Schedule One license that allows them to study hemp that is cultivated under highly controlled environments. As such, the strains differ widely in the variations utilized recreationally, limiting the true validity of experimental results.