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Scientists face limited access to marijuana for medical research purposes

By Sean McCaughan
Dec 27, 2018

Americans can buy high quality medical or recreational marijuana in most states, but scientists are quixotically faced with extremely limited access when performing the necessary research to advance our knowledge of its uses and benefits. It’s a conundrum without an easy answer, as POLITICO explains. Only one lab in the United States, a research facility at the University of Mississippi, is the only place in the country authorized to grow and experiment with marijuana for medical purposes. However, compared to marijuana available on the private market, their stuff is ‘swag.’

“It’s brown, muddy garbage,” said physician and board member of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation Peter Grinspoon.

Although the DEA insists they support medical marijuana research, the fact that the Mississippi facility is the only Federally permitted research facility in the country, and the quality of their supply--which is a product that doesn’t match real-world uses--shows how much the DEA and FDA are dragging their feet on the subject. Additionally, the legal hoops that have to be jumped through even to be permitted access to the Mississippi stock for research purposes are cumbersome to the point of alienation.

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Currently, researchers have to get FDA approval of the proposed study, undergo a battery of check by the DEA, and have stringent safeguards in place to prevent the marijuana from being used in a way that they did not authorize, like a having a limited-access room for lab research, and an advanced safe to store the samples. Plus, it takes up to a year for approvals to be granted. Only 20 researchers passed the bar and were allowed access to the marijuana for research in 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which oversees the Mississippi lab.

“It’s almost a catch-22. These products are widely available to the public. But as clinical researchers, we can’t administer one drop in a clinical trial,” Staci Gruber, a Harvard neurologist studying cannabis as a treatment for anxiety said.

“The most important next step is to allow the FDA to properly measure and study the efficacy of marijuana,” Senator Brian Schatz told POLITICO. “There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence and even some clinical evidence that this is worth pursuing.” He is a cosponsor of a bipartisan bill released in 2017 meant to lower the barriers to medical marijuana research.

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Meanwhile, the passage of the latest farm bill, fully legalizing hemp-based CBD, may turn up the heat on the FDA to finally allow more hard research into the medical benefits of marijuana. Since the cannabis industry makes such extensive claims about the revolutionary medical effects of CBD, the FDA cannot wait much longer to test the veracity of such claims.

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