On October 20, marijuana will no longer be an illegal drug in Canada—a move that could make it much easier to study how cannabis affects the body and the brain. Currently in Canada, to study the physiological effects of cannabis in humans, researchers have to apply for an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which has been difficult to get regardless of the political affiliation of government leaders, Milloy says.

Funding hasn’t been easy to come by either, making cannabis research the “poor second cousin of alcohol studies,” notes sociologist Andrew Hathaway of the University of Guelph. But with legalization on the horizon, studies into its effects on health are even more critical, and funders apparently agree, infusing more money into cannabis research. The trouble is that while consumers will be able to easily buy pot, scientists still face restrictions on how they can study it.

A legacy of restricted research on marijuana

Despite widespread use and anecdotal evidence to support marijuana’s benefits, researchers don’t have a concrete grasp on how exactly cannabis interacts with the chemistry and physiology of the brain. Getting insight into marijuana’s effects from Canada’s neighbors to the south hasn’t been productive either. The U.S., too, has made it difficult for scientists to study the plant and its various phytochemicals.

More money, more science

Analysts estimate that a legal cannabis market could become a $5-billion to $6-billion industry in Canada, with some of that money funneled toward research, Milloy notes. New pockets of money are opening, says Hathaway, who has been surveying marijuana users for over two decades, trying to understand the different populations of people who use the drug. But there’s a catch. Federal dollars, he says, are now being awarded to multidisciplinary teams, which could squeeze out researchers working in the field on a smaller scale, or those seeking answers about the cultural ramifications of cannabis use or other topics not directly related to public health.

Resourse: The Scientist