For many years, U.S. research has used schwag, a name for poor-quality cannabis usually containing flowers with pieces of stem, seeds, and leaves, grown by a Mississippi contractor. Yet, this is all coming to an end and the DEA is now allowing other growers—who know how to produce good-quality cannabis—to supply high‑grade weed for scientific research. On May 14th 2021, the DEA announced that “a number of manufacturers’ applications to cultivate marijuana for research needs in the United States appears to be consistent with applicable legal standards and relevant laws.”
What is Schwag? And Why Do Scientists Use It?
Schwag is the term used for low-quality weed and, broadly speaking, it is considered too bad to be sold at a dispensary. Unlike cannabis waste, i.e. leaves and other plant material that are trimmed off the flower, schwag consists in flowers that may contain stems, seeds, leaves, and other plant parts. Schwag is usually hard to smoke and is more frequently used to make edibles or hash. Supposedly, schwag is suitable for scientific purposes because of its low content of THC, which complies with the regulatory limits for said use.
The only cannabis supplier approved by the federal government for research purposes in the United States has been a 12-acre farm run by the National Center for the Development of Natural Products at the University of Mississippi since 1968. That production has been exclusively for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which maintains control over production and distribution of research-grade cannabis in the U.S.
In 2017, Rick Doblin stated that the NIDA was “completely inadequate as a source of marijuana for drug development research.” Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), pointed to the poor quality and low potency of cannabis grown by the government as an ongoing challenge for American researchers studying cannabis.
For the time being, only three organisations have been publicly named as approved growers for research: Groff North America, based in Pennsylvania, the Arizona-based Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI), and Biopharmaceutical Research Company (BRC) in California.
Right now, the main and most common argument against medical cannabis and marijuana legalisation around the world is the lack of research and data. The U.S. is making progress and intends to provide cannabis scientists with premium-quality weed.