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Top Scientists Say Federal Law Prevents Them From Studying the Therapeutic Effects of Cannabis

The DEA’s classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance hinders research into the substance’s therapeutic effects, the nation’s top doctors claim.

A report published earlier this month by the nation’s top scientists urges the federal government to reschedule cannabis to allow for more thorough research into the substance’s therapeutic and potential risks. While a majority of US states now allow residents to legally use medical marijuana, federally cannabis remains a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, creating hurdles for scientists and obstructing medical research.

The comprehensive, 395-page research review from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), entitled “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research,” examined 10,000 of the studies on cannabis conducted over the past 16 years. The report summarizes the scientists’ conclusions on the benefits and risks associated with cannabis. You can read the entire report, here.

The report also urges that more examination into cannabis be done and notes that the classification as a Schedule I drug impedes research. To study cannabis, scientists must first obtain a Schedule I research registration from the Drug Enforcement Administration and typically a Schedule I research license from the state-controlled drug agency. Cannabis material can only be acquired through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). These obstacles of additional costs and delays hinder research volume and the collection of data on cannabis.

“There are specific regulatory barriers, including the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance, that impede the advancement of cannabis and cannabinoid research,” the committee of scientists write in their conclusion. “It is often difficult for researchers to gain access to the quantity, quality, and type of cannabis product necessary to address specific research questions on the health effects of cannabis use.”

Medical Marijuana Research

Not only would reclassifying cannabis allow for more research, but also the findings in the NASEM study indicate that the substance doesn’t belong in the same category as drugs like LSD and heroin. According to the DEA, the Schedule I classification is reserved for “drugs, substances, or chemicals defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The committee’s review of existing studies found conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis and its cannabinoids are beneficial for treating chronic pain, nausea, and symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

The report indicates that there is some evidence to show that cannabis may successfully treat epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but the committee says there’s simply not enough studies completed to provide conclusive proof. More research also needs to be done on dosage, safety and delivery systems.

“To develop conclusive evidence for the effects of cannabis use for short- and long-term health outcomes, improvements and standardization in research methodology (including those used in controlled trials and observational studies) are needed,” the report’s conclusion reads.

Unfortunately, the likelihood of cannabis being rescheduled over the next few years is slim, as President Donald Trump has voiced concerns over loosening cannabis laws and his nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, has a long record of opposing marijuana. The DEA considered but refused to reschedule under President Obama’s administration in August.

Learn more about what research has already discovered on the therapeutic effects of cannabis by visiting our education page.

Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.

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