Scientists intent on understanding the benefits of the marijuana plant got a big break in June when the Obama administration announced the end to a major bureaucratic impediment.
The White House announced June 22 that it would scrap the requirement that scientists receive approval from the Department of Health and Human Services before conducting cannabis research. Pot advocates and researchers have decried the rule as a bar to real science.
The change should make it easier for proposed studies to clear the federal government. The red tape remains substantial, but the decision reflects a growing federal trend toward open study of weed.
The rule change applies to privately funded researchers seeking federal approval for marijuana study. Researchers who want public funding must secure additional government approvals.
In addition to the previous rule requiring approval from the DHHS (also known as the Public Health Service), scientists also must win permission from the FDA and DEA. The federal government controls all access to the only fully legal marijuana research farm, and that, together with DHHS review, has long been used to strangle cannabis science.
DHHS hindered legitimate marijuana research
Pot activists and scientists have complained for many years that the DHHS, and specifically an agency called the National Institute on Drug Abuse, have tried to block legitimate research into the possible medical benefits of cannabis.
The DHHS review was created in 1999, following a report by the Institute of Medicine that called for more scientific studies of medical marijuana and its benefits. But the requirement ultimately stymied more science than it promoted, making it nearly impossible for researchers to fully understand the cannabis plant.
Marijuana is currently listed as a schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. That listing applies only to chemicals the federal government considers especially harmful, especially addictive, and medically useless. Other schedule 1 drugs include heroin and LSD.
Cannabis remains schedule 1 of CSA
Available science has shattered the myth that marijuana is a dangerous drug, yet it remains in schedule 1, mostly for politicial reasons. And that listing makes it much more difficult to study the drug.
What’s more, cannabis is subject to research rules that don’t even apply to other schedule 1 drugs. The blocks were put in place during the so-called war on drugs in an attempt to frustrate inevitable efforts at political reform.
“The Obama Administration has actively supported scientific research on whether marijuana or its components can be safe and effective medicine,” the office of the White House drug czar said in a statement. “Eliminating the Public Health Service review should help facilitate additional research to advance our understanding of both the adverse effects and potential therapeutic uses for marijuana or its components.”