It’s weird to admit it: even though many of us have spent a lot of time with the cannabis plant, imbibing and ingesting it in all its many-splendored forms, weed is still something of a stranger to us.

We know that it can be good for our health, easing epilepsy and headaches and maybe even cancer, but we don’t know that much about why or how it’s good for our health. We also know that it can be bad for our health, causing car accidents and maybe cognitive and mental dysfunction, but we don’t know that much about how or why that happens either.

I guess that’s why the storied smarty pants publication The New Yorker put one of their biggest smarty pants contributors on the case to investigate how exactly we should treat a drug that we like but don’t know too much about.

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of a bunch of best-selling books including Outliers and the Tipping Point and a guy who Time Magazine once called one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In a recent article, Gladwell looked at the widespread confusion among many weed experts and tried to make some sense of it.

He started by rehashing at a 2017 cannabis report from the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). Created by a team of 16 leading medical experts and running 468 pages long, they report came to a conclusion that could be best described by a shrug, basically saying “we still don’t know shit.”

Or, in more scientific terms, “Insufficient evidence.” We’re pretty sure that weed can be good for treating negative effects of chemotherapy, but NAM notes that “there are no good-quality randomized trials investigating this option.” It also seems like cannabis can be used to treat pain, but unlike pretty much any other drug used by man, “very little is known about the efficacy, dose, routes of administration, or side effects of commonly used and commercially available cannabis products in the United States.”

Whereas most medicine goes through years of testing before it hits the market, cock-eyed federal cannabis laws have made it so that it’s easier for states to legalize medical cannabis than it is for anyone to test whether it works. So we still don’t know nearly as much as we should about how medical marijuana works or how we can make it better.

We also don’t know too much about some of cannabis’s negative effects. Gladwell notes that we don’t even know how much higher new really good weed gets you than what was sold a couple of decades ago, and we certainly don’t know too much about the correlation between cannabis use and mental problems such as psychosis.

Not that many people who use cannabis go totally buck wild, but it seems to happen from time to time when someone has some brain chemistry that doesn’t react well to a flood of cannabinoids. But we still don’t know why or how or how to stop it.

While there isn’t anything similar in the pharmaceutical world, Gladwell can think of at least one consumer product that used to be in a similar situation. There was a time when cars were legal to drive, but totally unsafe. Over the decades, we did tests and made them way, way safer. The best-case scenario, Gladwell says, is that our approach to cannabis follows a similar path: “the best-case scenario is that we will muddle through, learning more about its true effects as we go along and adapting as needed.”

Photo via Flickr user WeedPornDaily