Brain and Body

US Federal Government Is Thwarting Proper Marijuana Research, Report Claims

June 27, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Dried marijuana leaves seen through a magnifying glass
Photo credit: Cannabis Training University/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Marijuana is still categorized as more dangerous than cocaine, methamphetamine, and PCP.

Marijuana continues to gain its status as an effective treatment for a number of health conditions, from epilepsy to the severe pain experienced by chronic cancer patients. As of today, 23 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have legalized Cannabis sativa to benefit people suffering from a number of medical conditions.

In fact, a recent poll conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine reveals that the majority of physicians in the US — over 75 percent — believe that medical cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for a range of mental and physical health conditions.

However, according to a new paper published in Science, the federal government may be hindering researchers’ abilities to conduct proper research on the risks and benefits of medical marijuana.

"Millions of patients have been granted the authorization to use medical Cannabis and Cannabis-based products by their respective state Health Departments and four states have begun taxing and regulating Cannabis sold for 'recreational' purposes," study researchers Jacob Vigil and Sarah Stith, of the University of New Mexico, said in a press release.

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"However, the federal government continues to categorize Cannabis sativa as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, a more restrictive categorization than that used for cocaine, methamphetamine and PCP."

Since marijuana is defined as a Schedule I drug, this means it’s labeled with a “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use,” which is counterintuitive as it’s already legalized for medicinal purposes in a number of states.

Further, researchers are required to obtain research marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), but the organization’s cannabis is far less potent than the cannabis products that are sold and used.

To put it in perspective, the highest level of THC available through NIDA is 12.4 percent, but the American Chemical Society found that the Cannabis sativa sold in Colorado averaged at 18.7 percent, with some strains as high as 35 percent. In New Mexico, some THC products even contain potency levels of 70 percent.

Plus, of the only two clinical studies funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) last year, the products obtained from the University of Mississippi had THC potency levels between 3.5 and 7 percent — it goes without saying that such a variation in potency levels will produce results with a skewed picture of marijuana’s risks and benefits.

"Clearly, results from studies using Cannabis sativa obtained from the University of Mississippi offer little to no insight into the effects actually experienced by medical marijuana patients in terms of both therapeutic benefits and negative side effects, if any," Vigil and Stith said.

According to the researchers, the federal barriers to cannabis research have created an “unnecessary paradox in modern medicine,” as physicians are prescribing patients medicine “without a scientific basis of knowledge” about the potential risks and outcomes associated with medical cannabis.

"Unfortunately, both the costs and benefits of medicinal use of Cannabis sativa remain essentially unknown, and because the federal government effectively bans clinical research on Cannabis sativa, citizens, including many severely ill individuals, may suffer and die unnecessarily from both the unknown risks and the unknown benefits of consuming Cannabis sativa," the researchers conclude.

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