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Health Team

Triangle research firm helping develop labeling, safety standards for medicinal marijuana

Posted March 9

Twenty-four states, not including North Carolina, have legalized medicinal marijuana even though it isn't approved or regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

No standards have yet been established for safe and effective use of medical marijuana, but a Research Triangle Park company is playing a major role in building a foundation for quality control.

"There's been a progressive and steady acceptability of cannabis, both from users and non-users," Scott Novak, a senior research scientist at RTI International, said.

Despite that, there are some questions about regulations. Products sold in states that allow marijuana are mostly unregulated and present potentially serious risks, especially for new users, Novak said.

"We are seeing a significant amount of side effects and problems that we're seeing in terms of increase in emergency department visits," he said.

Brian Thomas, the principal scientists for RTI, co-authored a book about marijuana called "The Analytical Chemistry of Cannabis. Using mass spectrometers at RTI, Thomas says he's found many cannabis product labels don't match their actual content.

"When it's used as a medicine, then there's a consistency that's required for patients," Thomas said. "The consumer should know what's in the product. It should be well-labeled."

Current products on the market may be smoked, vaped, rubbed into the skin or even eaten in a variety of forms. Some may pack a concentrated punch of the psychoactive cannabinoid.

"If you're drug naive, you might find yourself becoming uncomfortably intoxicated very rapidly," Thomas said.

Thomas and others are helping establish standards of labeling, safety and effectiveness using legally grown marijuana controlled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Until standards are federally controlled, Thomas says the responsibility for safety will rest with users.

"In all instances, it needs to be buyer beware," Thomas said.

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