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Legislators, Advocates Call For Less Restrictions On Medical Marijuana Research

It is often said that more research into medical marijuana will be necessary before we see a change in cannabis policy at the federal level. However, researchers who are interested in studying the plant for its therapeutic potential are required to undergo an extremely stringent review process before being permitted to pursue their research in the US.

sylvia burwellWith medical marijuana laws on the books in more than 20 states, not to mention adult-use legislation in Colorado and Washington, the call for research is increasing in volume. So much so, in fact, that 30 members of congress sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell in June demanding that they ease the restrictions on medical marijuana research so that more can be learned about the cannabis plant and its numerous compounds.

HHS Pressured To Ease Medical Marijuana Research Protocols

“We write to express our support for increasing scientific research on the therapeutic risks and benefits of marijuana,” the letter reads. “We ask that you take measures to ensure that any non-National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded researcher who has acquired necessary Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Institutional Review Board (IRB), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and appropriate state and local authority approval be able to access marijuana for research at-cost without further review.”

“We believe the widespread use of medical marijuana should necessitate research into what specific relief it offers and how it can best be delivered for different people and different conditions.” – Letter from Congress to Secretary Sylvia Burwell

Citing the fact that over one million Americans currently use medical marijuana with positive results, the letter goes on to state the following: “We believe the widespread use of medical marijuana should necessitate research into what specific relief it offers and how it can best be delivered for different people and different conditions. Yet, the scientific research clearly documenting these benefits has often been hampered by federal barriers.”

As it stands, studying cannabis and all other drugs listed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act (LSD, MDMA, psilocybin, etc.) requires approval from the FDA, IRB, DEA, and a license from any required state or local authorities. However, those interested in researching medical marijuana must undergo an additional Public Health Service review if they are not funded by the NIH.

Successfully passing this stringent review process means that researchers will be allowed access to the only source of cannabis that can be legally used for medical marijuana research; it is cultivated and distributed by the University of Mississippi under contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

While this review process may seem straightforward at first glance, federal authorities have long been accused of only funding studies that aim to show negative effects from cannabis. The Huffington Post offerred the following about funding that has granted in recent years:

“Since 2003, more than 500 grants for marijuana-related studies have received federal approval, with a marked upswing in recent years, according to McClatchy. Only 22 grants were approved in 2003 for cannabis research, totaling $6 million, but in 2012, 69 grants were approved for a total of over $30 million. Despite these numbers, NIDA has reportedly conducted only about 30 studies to date on the potential benefits of marijuana, according to The Hill.”

Drug Policy Alliance, MAPS Blast The DEA For Impeding Research

The letter from Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and more came just one week after a joint report from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychadelic Studies (MAPS) unforgivingly titled, The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding and Rejecting Science.

As the name would suggest, the report alleges that the DEA has repeatedly overruled federal officials charged with determining how various substances should be scheduled.

The agency is also accused of creating a “regulatory Catch-22” in which they argue there is not enough scientific evidence to warrant a change in federal cannabis policy, while hampering the very research that could provide the desired evidence.

Despite pressure from advocates, researchers, and legislators alike, the Department of Health & Human Services has yet to address the issue of amending the review process for medical marijuana research – it has been more than two months since the original letter was sent to the Department of Health and Human Services.

rick doblinRick Doblin, Executive Director of MAPS, voiced his frustration with the lack of action last week in an interview with Medical Jane.

“The obvious bias and restrictions placed on private medical marijuana research protocols is one of two major issues that we face right now,” he explains. “Ending the Publich Health review process should be a priority if we hope to gain an optimal understanding of the efficacy of medical marijuana.”


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