It’s High Time For More Marijuana Research

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 27 2015 @ 10:09am

A major doctors’ group supports reclassifying cannabis:

There’s some very early, and largely anecdotal, evidence that marijuana might be an effective treatment for some forms of epilepsy in children who haven’t responded to traditional medications. It’s partly to help bolster these types of clinical studies that the American Academy of Pediatrics today recommended that the government re-classify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, a category that includes other addictive, yet still therapeutic, substances like oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. Currently, marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug, along with things like heroin and acid, which are thought to have no medicinal value.

German Lopez spells out why reclassification has proven so difficult:

When marijuana’s classification comes under review, its schedule 1 status is consistently maintained due to insufficient scientific evidence of its medical value.

Specifically, the scientific evidence available for marijuana doesn’t pass the threshold required by federal agencies to acknowledge a drug’s potential as medicine. HHS’s 2006 review of marijuana’s schedule found several problems: no studies proved the drug’s medical efficacy in controlled, large-scale clinical environments, no studies established adequate safety protocols for marijuana, and marijuana’s full chemical structure has never been characterized and analyzed.

But one reason there isn’t enough scientific evidence to change marijuana’s schedule 1 status might be, in fact, the drug’s schedule 1 status. The DEA restricts how much marijuana can go to research. To obtain legal marijuana supplies for studies, researchers must get their studies approved by HHS, the FDA, and DEA. (This process didn’t even exist until the late 1990s. Before then, it was nearly impossible to obtain marijuana for medical research.

Changing marijuana’s schedule, in other words, is a bit of a Catch-22.

Sullum sounds off:

Reclassifying marijuana would not automatically make it available as a medicine, but it would have several salutary effects, especially if marijuana is placed in Schedule III or lower. Facilitating research is one possible benefit, although if that is the aim rescheduling should be accompanied by the abolition of the federal government’s monopoly on the legal supply of cannabis for research. The AAP does not mention that change, but it makes sense in light of the organization’s position that marijuana derivatives should be treated like any other drug considered by the FDA.