The Essential Role of Data
Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay! ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Conan Doyle was right – when it comes to research on Cannabis, it’s all about the data. As we enter the next phase of cannabis research on a national and international scale, data generation and data management are two of the most important aspects of this process.
The social history of cannabis is replete with stories on the benefits and uses of this unique plant. However, this antidotal data and information is not enough to move this plant from its current position on Schedule I to a fully legalized natural medicine. It is time to fully embrace “data” and how it is used to validate and compel the discussions to fully support legalization and appropriately funded clinical research.
Data is the information generated by the processes of inquiry. It is a set of information (values) that informs us of the outcome of a single or series of experiments and guides the generation of new a hypothesis for further investigation. Data, as a set of variables, is collected, measured, analyzed, and reported. It forms the foundation of our discussions on the scientific values and potential medical benefits of the Cannabis species.
Data collection is the process of gathering and measuring information on variables of interest, in an established systematic fashion that enables one to answer stated research questions, test hypotheses, and evaluate outcomes. The data collection component of research is common to all fields of study including biology, chemistry, physics, clinical medicine, and social sciences. While methods vary by discipline, the emphasis on ensuring accurate and honest collection remains the same. For an emerging industry under the optics of politics and medicine, proper data collection is a requirement for future success.
Accurate data collection is essential to maintaining the integrity of research. Both the selection of appropriate data collection instruments (existing, modified, or newly developed) and clearly delineated instructions for their correct use reduce the likelihood of errors occurring. Poorly collected data can result in the inability to answer research questions accurately, invalidate complete studies, and cause harm to human participants in clinical studies. While the degree of impact from faulty data collection on Cannabis research may vary by scientific discipline and the nature of investigation, there is the potential to cause disproportionate harm when these research results are used to support public policy recommendations.