Big pharma likes to have it their way. Instead of allowing the national institute of health to conduct clinical studies, they’ve teamed up with Congress to re-write the rules so drug makers can essentially fund their clinical trials.
At the same time, medical cannabis’s up-and-coming nature threatens to take a major chunk of revenue from painkillers, anti-seizure drugs, autism treatments and more. You might not be surprised to learn that while the number of studies on marijuana and how it affects the brain has gone up, most of them aim at discounting the drug’s suggested benefits.
Marijuana Is Difficult to Study
Federal law still makes marijuana use illegal, which is one of the reasons we see so little published about it. There’s no access to federal funding, and it is only recently that many states have introduced legal options for people to use marijuana medicinally and — in some cases — recreationally.
All of the research people have access to has to come from smaller state or privately funded studies. In some places, such as Pennsylvania, there are limits on the number of marijuana producers that can participate in research activities.
Adding to the complexity, you need a DEA license to conduct clinical research. That means getting approval from the FDA — a federal administration. There’s also the issue of procuring the test materials. Marijuana used for testing needs to come from the national institute on drug abuse — you can’t go to a dispensary and test any strain.
In the past, this has made access to passable test materials tough to get. This could change as more states bring medical use laws online and new producers offer products aimed specifically at medical use.
Giving Cannabis a Bad Rep
America’s government has been traditionally anti-pot. While attitudes on the substance change, the result of the longtime war on drugs — of which marijuana has remained a favored target — means that much of the research material available focuses on casting cannabis in a negative light.
Studies are performed with a focus on the dangers of marijuana use. Many have been inconclusive, or have only rendered negligible results, but even fewer have asked the proper questions to determine whether marijuana can constitute legitimate medicine. However, experts from the medical community feel there might be a way to change this.
Changing Marijuana’s Classification
As a schedule I drug, marijuana is treated with the same level of reserve as heroin and PCP. This classification is left over from the Regan era when you could receive a 20-year sentence for possession of marijuana.
In the eyes of state legislatures and the public, cannabis is largely decriminalized today. However, the DEA is reluctant to change this classification. As a schedule I drug, marijuana is considered to have almost no potential medicinal uses, or if it does, they are far outweighed by the risks of using it and therefore cannot be studied.
With increased exposure to medicinal and recreational users, the medical community should know this to be a falsehood by now. Marijuana has an overdose rate of zero and comparatively causes less harm to American’s health than over-the-counter drugs like cigarettes and alcohol.
By changing the classification for cannabis from schedule I to schedule II, the DEA would invite the medical community to get familiar with the drug. Fear of prosecution would go away, and we could begin to make quantitative statements about how the psychoactive components of the drug work.
Bad Timing Under Trump
However, it’s unlikely we’ll see this change come during a Trump administration in which attorney general Jeff Sessions feels strongly that the fight against marijuana use should be revisited. The embattled attorney general can’t reasonably argue that the march of progress will stop because of his temper tantrum. It’s a confusing scenario.
Even if it takes another few years, the US has spoken with regard to medical cannabis as the majority of Americans are for it. Understanding it better only makes sense. We should be taking the right steps to do that as soon as possible.