The smoking of marijuana in the U.S. is now legal for recreational use in five states, and for medicinal purposes in more than 20. With the tide evidently turning, it seems bizarre that the use of pot for scientific studies is surrounded by miles of red tape, especially given the list of ailments it shows promise in treating. But encouragingly, it finally seems that these outdated restrictions are set to change, as the White House announces today that it will be updating policy on research using weed, relaxing some of the tight regulations.
Considering that so many states have already legalized medical marijuana, it’s surprising that the controls on using it in therapeutic trials have remained so stringent. Since 1999, the drug has been labeled as a Schedule 1 drug – putting it in the same category as heroin and LSD – meaning that it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” and is one of “the most dangerous drugs.”
This all means that if any researcher wants to get their hands on any marijuana for use in clinical studies, they have to jump through another hoop of bureaucracy and undergo a separate Public Health Service review. This process has been criticized equally across the board by researchers and lawmakers and is generally accepted to have stifled any studies into the potential benefit – or harm – that comes from smoking the plant. Getting approval can be a process years in the making. And it's not cheap, either.
By removing the necessity to go through a Public Health Service review, it’s hoped that this will facilitate and speed up additional research of the drug. The only official governmental supplier of marijuana, grown since the 1970s by the University of Mississippi, has already started to boost production due to an increased demand for research-grade pot over the last few years. It looks like this demand might be set to sky rocket even further.
With evidence building that smoking marijuana can help people living with many different health problems, from alleviating pain and stiffness in those suffering from MS to reducing the damaging impact of post-traumatic stress disorder, this shift in policy from the government is expected to be welcomed across the research community.