Clinical studies and cannabis research need to be conducted. For medicinal purposes, cannabis advocates feel that the healing herb could be a safer and more effective alternative to opioids. And helpful for symptom management for other conditions, such as epilepsy, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and chronic pain.
What the medical community knows today is that many prescription medications have unexpected (and harmful) side effects—particularly when used for long-term care. Patients also know this, which is why many Americans are trying doctor-supervised cannabis as a treatment alternative.
Federal prohibition seems like an insurmountable wall. Despite the wide adoption of medical cannabis in thirty-eight states (at the time of writing), the feds remain unmoved. And the reason the anti-cannabis stance is so ingrained, they claim, is the lack of ‘evidence-based research.’
An announcement from the White House and the DEA has created new hope for researchers. The Universities and clinical experts have been trying to cut through the red tape and provide that evidence are encouraged.
The Wall Blocking Cannabis Research for Decades
The federal government’s stance against cannabis legalization has always been rooted in clinical research. Not evaluating the medicinal benefits of cannabis and weighing them against potential risks. The feds have always stated that there is not enough research to determine it is safe.
The problem seems easy enough to address. Get the research and learn more about cannabis to make an informed decision for public health. Do you want facts? We’ll give you facts. Or at least, that’s why researchers have been saying for decades.
Where it gets more than a little shady is the legal and administrative wall between cannabis studies and researchers. You see, on one hand, the federal government had always called for “clinical-based evidence” when the topic of legalization came up. On the other hand, the government has also made it virtually impossible for researchers to do those studies.
In the United States, researchers had only one place where they could legally purchase cannabis for study. That was the University of Mississippi. The institution has been licensed by the federal government to grow cannabis exclusively for research. But the potency is far lower than what is available to consumers today.
Tilray Inc. is a Canadian Company (BC) that was granted an exclusive license to export cannabis for research. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) granted approval in 2018 for the cultivator to provide cannabis for research to the University of California San Diego. Specifically for a study about using cannabis to treat Essential Tremor (ET).
Researchers Must Jump Through Hoops to Conduct Schedule I Drug Research
There are brilliant medical minds that can provide all the answers we need about cannabis and other schedule one drugs. The problem is that their hands have been tied. You would think being part of a registered educational or research team would be enough credentials to get a legal permit to study weed. That’s not the case.
Right now, all researchers have to submit a proposal. That’s normal for any registered study. But the proposal has to include a book of information and safety protocols. How much will they be using? How will the cannabis be stored? Who will have access to it, and what security measures are being taken?
It kind of feels a lot like going across the border, minus the potential pat-down and metal detection wand. But it doesn’t stop there. Everyone involved in the study has to be evaluated and approved by the Secretary of Health and Human Services and registered by the department.
And then, after all that information has been provided, the DEA registration applications are subject to a judgment on the merit of the research. So, if they disagree that the research is valid or important enough to benefit population health, the applications go in the dumpster.
The DEA Tried to Expand Access to Cannabis Research in 2016
Is it possible that the Drug Enforcement Agency may be softening its stance toward cannabis? Maybe. Back in 2016, the DEA proposed to expand access to licensed cannabis research.
The DEA wanted to increase the amount of cannabis available for research because the Drug Enforcement Agency would like those answers before it considers rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, to maybe a Schedule 2 or 3 controlled substance.
There were a number of bipartisan bills to expand cannabis research filed in 2016. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to approve them. None of the proposed changes that would open more cannabis clinical studies made it through Congress.
In December 2020, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency released updated regulations. And among the new regulations were provisions to expand cannabis research. Marijuana Moment reported that President Biden’s administration is eager to remove the obstacles to getting that evidence-based research. Not just on cannabis for medical use, but psychedelics like psilocybin and ketamine.