It’s a strange catch-22 that the medical research of marijuana has been hampered for so many years because there’s little medical research on marijuana to prove its worth. However, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has released some exciting news that could break this vicious circle.
Firstly, the DEA announced on Thursday that marijuana will remain in the same bracket as MDMA, LSD, and heroin as a “Schedule I controlled substance.” These drugs are defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
On the other hand, they also said they will be increasing the number of registered marijuana manufacturers to make it easier for medical research.
Currently, the University of Mississippi is the only institution allowed to legally produce marijuana for medical research, which they do through a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). On top of the piles of bureaucracy needed to conduct research, the lack of sources has also made conducting studies notably harder than other drugs.
“DEA announced a policy change designed to foster research by expanding the number of DEA-registered marijuana manufacturers," the statement said. "This change should provide researchers with a more varied and robust supply of marijuana."
“This change illustrates DEA’s commitment to working together with the FDA and NIDA to facilitate research concerning marijuana and its components,” it continued.
So far, medical studies on marijuana are limited, but they have hinted at some positive results – particularly in regards to its active psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). A study, published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry in 2014, suggested that THC could be used to treat autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. Others have suggested it could be used to treat epilepsy, provide pain relief, and that it even contains anti-tumor properties.
In the wider picture, the United States and the world as a whole have welcomed new attitudes towards marijuana in the past decade. Recent years have seen 25 US states legalize medical marijuana, with many more expected to follow suit. A handful of others have also legalized its recreational use.
Marijuana advocates are heralding this as a mixed victory. Although disappointed that marijuana remains in the highest band of drugs, the restrictions on medical marijuana have been seen as a hurdle for some time. Many have argued that this has been guided by politics, stigma, and ideology, rather than science.
“For far too long, federal regulations have made clinical investigations involving cannabis needlessly onerous and have placed unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on marijuana that do not exist for other controlled substances, including some other Schedule I controlled substances,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said in a statement.