May 2nd, 2016

Cracks In The DEA Wall Against Cannabis Research?

Reasonable voices continue to call for the Drug Enforcement Administration to relax the obstacles to badly needed research on cannabis, which the agency has said it will consider doing in the first half of this year.  A legislative remedy, in the form of a Congressional bill introduced last year to create a new research-enabling classification level, failed on a “procedural” basis.

President Nixon created the DEA in 1973 by President Nixon by combining other agencies and locating it within the Department of Justice. According to the DEA website, Nixon’s intention was “to establish a single unified command to combat an all-out global war on the drug menace.”

Paradoxically, DEA intransigence regarding Schedule I status for “marijuana” under the Controlled Substances Act —established in 1970 by fiat, without a scientific basis—is one of the explanations for the “epidemic” of state medical marijuana laws, which can be seen as a ballot box protest against this DEA position. These state laws, which conflict with Federal law and are therefore invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, have only moved forward because of the Obama Administration’s 2013 decision not to enforce the Federal law in those states where regulation of “medical marijuana” is being done carefully.

While I applaud this grassroots pressure, I believe that patients and physicians would ultimately be better served by allowing this potentially useful medication to be more readily researched and produced by established pharmaceutical companies and distributed through conventional pharmacies rather than having to set up an entirely new system of “artisanal” growers, distributors, and dispensaries.

Most of the media focus on the medical use of cannabis has been focused on such problems as pain and muscle spasticity. As an addiction physician, however, I was intrigued by Dr. Eliot Gardner’s research suggesting the potential usefulness of medications related to the cannabinoid system for the treatment of addictions in general.

Furthermore, one of the probable unfortunate consequences of the wider availability of cannabis, and specifically the higher THC concentrations, will be an increase in cannabis use disorders. No medications are currently approved for the treatment of these disorders. Research on the cannabinoid related medications could give us important tools to help our patients recover from this disabling addiction.

The DEA has apparently learned that a non-response can sometimes be more effective than a direct denial in discouraging opposition. This is the strategy that they are following in response to an attempt to establish a second approved site, in addition to the farm at the University of Mississippi, for growing legally sanctioned cannabis for research purposes. Your support of efforts to keep pressure on the DEA to address this issue rationally would be welcome.

See Dr. Kolodner’s Slideshare on Cannabis and the Fog of Ignorance.


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