29 states allow cannabis use for certain medical conditions. Despite that, scientists have a harder time doing research on the potential medical benefits of marijuana than they do on “harder” drugs like ecstasy or magic mushrooms. The public may think of pot use as no big deal, but federal laws make it difficult for researchers to obtain legal supplies. Clinical researchers can get permission from the DEA to grow or create restricted compounds; not so with cannabis.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 placed marijuana in the most restrictive use category, Schedule I, deeming it a drug with no medicinal value and high potential for abuse. To do clinical research with marijuana, you need a DEA license, and you need to get your study approved by the FDA. When it comes to actually obtaining research-grade marijuana, though, you have to go through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a process that has proved problematic for some researchers determined to study the potential medical benefits of marijuana in Florida and others states around the US.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that marijuana can reduce chronic pain, reduce muscle spasms in patients with multiple sclerosis and perhaps even help treat symptoms of PTSD. The small amount of clinical research out there also supports the idea that marijuana could be an effective treatment for pain. A 2007 study found that smoking cannabis reduced chronic pain in HIV-positive patients by 34 percent. Results from a study in 2010 further supported the theory that it can [reduce the intensity of neuropathic chronic pain- pain caused by damage to the nervous system–marijuana recommended by Doctors in Florida help patients find the relief they’ve been yearning for for years.
If you’re going to run a trial to show that marijuana has positive effects, the NIDA essentially is not going to allow it.
Both the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians have called for more research into the therapeutic uses of marijuana and for the U.S. government to reconsider its classification as a Schedule I substance.
Many universities grow and harvests cannabis for studies funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, yet because NIDA’s mandated mission is to research the harmful effects of controlled substances and stop drug abuse, the institute isn’t interested in helping establish marijuana as a medicine.
The federal government’s position on marijuana, according to a document featured prominently on the DEA’s homepage, is that:
The clear weight of the currently available evidence supports [Schedule I] classification, including evidence that smoked marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medicinal value in treatment in the United States, and evidence that there is a general lack of accepted safety for its use even under medical supervision says Doctors in Miami Florida… Specifically, smoked marijuana has not withstood the rigors of science–it is not medicine, and it is not safe.
Burge tells a different story. “The United States government has gone to great lengths to prevent [medical] research on whole-plant marijuana,” he says, though research into isolated components of the plant has gone on.
“We have an FDA-approved protocol, but the only way to actually get marijuana for the study, the only federally approved source. “NIDA refused to sell us the marijuana for this study.”
There’s a lot of investment in marijuana remaining illegal. According to NIDA, the agency can provide research-grade marijuana to projects that have received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or to a non NIH-funded project that has an approved Investigative New Drug application on file with the FDA; has proper DEA registration; and has been approved as scientifically valid by a Health and Human Services scientific review panel.