Top Fed Cites ‘Barriers’ to Marijuana Research, Says No to Incarceration

Summary: reports on National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) director Nora Volkow’s recent statement in a public Q&A acknowledging that there exist "barriers to research on marijuana and its constituents." In the public Q&A session hosted by TEDMED on Facebook, Volkow answered questions about drug policy, addiction issues, and marijuana research.

Originally appearing here.

The head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse on Thursday acknowledged that there are “barriers to research” that make it difficult for academics to study the medical benefits of marijuana. She also said that incarceration is not an appropriate response to drug use.

In response to’s question about whether she agrees with leading medical organizations that the drug should be reclassified under federal law because its current status as a Schedule I substance impedes research, NIDA director Nora Volkow said her agency “is working closely with our federal partners to try to find ways to reduce the barriers to research on marijuana and its constituent compounds.”

“We strongly encourage research on cannabinoids broadly including those that are present in marijuana,” she said.

The comments were part of a Facebook chat Volkow did on the TEDMED page.

While it isn’t clear what Volkow meant by “barriers to research,” she could have been referring to the Public Health Service review that all marijuana studies must go through in addition to getting approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and institutional review boards, an extra step that doesn’t exist for research concerning any other drug.

Researchers have also complained about the quality of marijuana available for research from the only approved supplier, a farm at the University of Mississippi, which operates under a NIDA contract.

While avoiding the direct question about marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance, Volkow’s acknowledgement that there are real barriers to marijuana science could boost efforts to make it easier for researchers to study the medical benefits of the drug.

Volkow also said in the Facebook chat that she doesn’t support incarcerating people as a punishment for drug use.

While Volkow didn’t respond to follow-up questions about whether drug users should still be arrested, her opposition to incarceration as a punishment for drug use seems to undermine the ongoing federal “war on drugs,” under which many people are currently serving prison sentences.