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The Research Conundrum


As many of us are aware, marijuana/cannabis is a Schedule 1 controlled substance. This means it’s in the same class as drugs of abuse like heroin, LSD, and magic mushrooms. Schedule 1 status is reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse, with no accepted medical use. 

Passionate consumers, as well as many scientists and medical providers, are opposed to Schedule 1 status for a variety of reasons. The two key issues that arise from Schedule 1 status are (1) it’s illegal to possess and (2) it’s hard to study scientifically. Possession of marijuana can result in legal consequences for consumers and distributors. Historically, this has disproportionately affected African Americans. The second problem is that Schedule 1 status impedes research efforts.

Researching a Schedule 1 substance in the US is difficult. Scientists have to register with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and obtain cannabis from a Federally sponsored facility in Mississippi. However, in January of this year, the DEA streamlined the application process for obtaining a Schedule 1 research license and in 2016 they announced they would accept applications from manufacturers looking to grow cannabis to supply researchers. With additional manufacturers supplying researchers and an easier application process, maybe marijuana research will accelerate.

An article published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine, Behind Schedule, highlighted the pitfalls of the current regulatory climate and made suggestions to improve cannabis legislation in the future. It’s becoming more and more clear that the winds behind cannabis legislation are changing.

With more than half of the US on board with medical cannabis (29 states and 3 US districts have publicly sponsored programs), it is hard to believe Federal legislation can still hinder scientific progress. Initiatives at the state level will help expand the body of evidence on cannabis-based medicines.

Studies are starting to be approved, but without a unified approach, these efforts are bound to fall short of accomplishing what is really needed. Robust studies with quantitative methodologies. Networks connecting dispensaries, providers, research sites, patients, and advocacy organizations will facilitate and encourage further research.


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