Why It’s So Hard For Scientists To Study Medical Marijuana

Apr 18, 2013

Eigh­teen states (plus the Dis­trict of Colum­bia) allow cannabis use for cer­tain med­ical con­di­tions. Despite that, sci­en­tists have a harder time doing research on the poten­tial med­ical ben­e­fits of mar­i­juana than they do on “harder” drugs like ecstasy or magic mush­rooms. The pub­lic may think of pot use as no big deal, but fed­eral laws make it dif­fi­cult for researchers to obtain legal sup­plies. Clin­i­cal researchers can get per­mis­sion from the DEA to grow or cre­ate restricted com­pounds like LSD, MDMA or psilo­cy­bin in the lab; not so with cannabis. The Con­trolled Sub­stances Act of 1970 placed mar­i­juana in the most restric­tive use cat­e­gory, Sched­ule I, deem­ing it a drug with no med­i­c­i­nal value and high poten­tial for abuse. To do clin­i­cal research with mar­i­juana, you need a DEA license, and you need to get your study approved by the FDA. When it comes to actu­ally obtain­ing research-grade mar­i­juana, though, you have to go through the National Insti­tute on Drug Abuse, a process that has proved prob­lem­atic for some researchers deter­mined to study the poten­tial med­ical ben­e­fits of pot. “Mar­i­juana is a linch­pin in the War on Drugs,” explains Brad Burge, the direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary Asso­ci­a­tion of Psy­che­delic Research (MAPS), an orga­ni­za­tion cur­rently embroiled in a law­suit with the DEA over the right to estab­lish a med­ical mar­i­juana farm. “There’s a lot of invest­ment in mar­i­juana remain­ing ille­gal.” Anec­do­tal evi­dence sug­gests that mar­i­juana can reduce chronic pain, reduce mus­cle spasms in patients with mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and per­haps even help treat symp­toms of PTSD. The small amount of clin­i­cal research out there also sup­ports the idea that mar­i­juana could be an effec­tive treat­ment for pain. A 2007 study found that smok­ing cannabis reduced chronic pain in HIV-positive patients by 34 per­cent. Results from a Cana­dian study in 2010 fur­ther sup­ported the the­ory that it can reduce the inten­sity of neu­ro­pathic pain–pain caused by dam­age to the ner­vous system–and help patients sleep. Both the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion and the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Physi­cians have called for more research into the ther­a­peu­tic uses of mar­i­juana and for the U.S. gov­ern­ment to recon­sider its clas­si­fi­ca­tion as a Sched­ule I sub­stance. The Uni­ver­sity of Mis­sis­sippi grows and har­vests cannabis for stud­ies funded by the National Insti­tute on Drug Abuse, yet because NIDA’s con­gres­sion­ally man­dated mis­sion is to research the harm­ful effects of con­trolled sub­stances and stop drug abuse, the insti­tute isn’t inter­ested in help­ing estab­lish mar­i­juana as a med­i­cine. “If you’re going to run a trial to show this is going to have pos­i­tive effects, they’re essen­tially not going to allow it,” Lyle Craker, a pro­fes­sor and hor­ti­cul­tur­ist at the Uni­ver­sity of Mass­a­chu­setts Amherst, says. The fed­eral government’s posi­tion on mar­i­juana, accord­ing to a Jan­u­ary 2011 doc­u­ment fea­tured promi­nently on the DEA’s home­page, is that The clear weight of the cur­rently avail­able evi­dence sup­ports [Sched­ule I] clas­si­fi­ca­tion, includ­ing evi­dence that smoked mar­i­juana has a high poten­tial for abuse, has no accepted med­i­c­i­nal value in treat­ment in the United States, and evi­dence that there is a gen­eral lack of accepted safety for its use even under med­ical super­vi­sion… Specif­i­cally, smoked mar­i­juana has not with­stood the rig­ors of science–it is not med­i­cine, and it is not safe. Burge tells a dif­fer­ent story. “The United States gov­ern­ment has gone to great lengths to pre­vent [med­ical] research on whole-plant mar­i­juana,” he says, though research into iso­lated com­po­nents of the plant has gone on. “We have an FDA-approved pro­to­col, but the only way to actu­ally get mar­i­juana for the study, the only fed­er­ally approved source, is at Uni­ver­sity of Mis­sis­sippi,” he says. “NIDA refused to sell us the mar­i­juana for this study.” Accord­ing to NIDA, the agency can pro­vide research-grade mar­i­juana to projects that have received fund­ing from the National Insti­tutes of Health (NIH), or to a non NIH-funded project that has an approved Inves­ti­ga­tional New Drug appli­ca­tion on file with the FDA; has proper DEA reg­is­tra­tion; and has been approved as sci­en­tif­i­cally valid by a Health and Human Ser­vices sci­en­tific review panel. The agency describes its posi­tion on cannabis research as such: NIDA as well as other Insti­tutes and Cen­ters within the National Insti­tutes of Health (NIH) have sup­ported and will con­tinue to sup­port research on both the adverse effects and ther­a­peu­tic uses for mar­i­juana pro­vided the research appli­ca­tions meet accepted stan­dards of sci­en­tific design and, on the basis of peer review, pub­lic health sig­nif­i­cance, and Insti­tute pri­or­i­ties. Because MAPS only needs sup­plies, not fund­ing, the orga­ni­za­tion, with the help of Lyle Craker, has been try­ing to estab­lish a pri­vate med­ical mar­i­juana farm to sup­ply cannabis for research for the past 12 years. The orga­ni­za­tion is cur­rently suing the DEA for deny­ing its license even after a DEA judge ruled in 2009 that such a license would serve the pub­lic inter­est. Mean­while, MAPS has applied to buy pot from the NIDA for a study on PTSD. In 2011, the sci­en­tific review panel from the Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices rejected the appli­ca­tion, cit­ing con­cerns with the study’s design, though the pro­to­col had already been approved by the FDA and has since been approved by the Uni­ver­sity of Arizona’s insti­tu­tional review boards. MAPS has added a few safety pro­ce­dures and plans on resub­mit­ting the pro­to­col to the HHS sci­en­tific review panel, but MAPS founder Rick Dobiln says he is “not hope­ful since the core ele­ments of the pro­to­col design remain the same.” Not every­one has had solely neg­a­tive expe­ri­ences with the bod­ies that con­trol the flow of research-grade mar­i­juana. The process just requires some bureau­cratic leg­erde­main. In 1992, Doblin approached Don­ald Abrams, a pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cisco and the chief of Hematology/Oncology at San Fran­cisco Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, and sug­gested he look into doing a clin­i­cal trial on the ben­e­fits of cannabis for HIV patients. “Hav­ing gone to col­lege in the ’60s myself, I thought it might be worth inves­ti­gat­ing,” Abrams says. “Lit­tle did I know how dif­fi­cult that would be.” First, he attempted to study the role cannabis could play in treat­ing patients suf­fer­ing from HIV Wast­ing Syn­drome, a con­di­tion that caused patients to lose weight and basi­cally wither away and die with­out even get­ting an infec­tion. But NIDA failed to approve his request for fund­ing. Con­tinue read­ing arti­cle @ http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013–04/why-its-so-hard-scientists-study-pot?page=1 Author: Shau­nacy Ferro Source: Pop­u­lar Science

40ed7fa201dis.jpg 150x100 Why It’s So Hard For Scientists To Study Medical Marijuana

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Why It’s So Hard For Sci­en­tists To Study Med­ical Marijuana

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