Summary: U.S. News and World Report investigates bureaucratic hurdles for medical marijuana research as enforced by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and current federal policies restricting cannabis research for therapeutic use. "The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Wednesday it’s making research into the non-intoxicating cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD) easier, but advocates for legal access to what appears an effective treatment for epilepsy say the change doesn’t go nearly far enough,” reports Steven Nelson of U.S. News and World Report.
Originally appearing here.
The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Wednesday it’s making research into the non-intoxicating cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD) easier, but advocates for legal access to what appears an effective treatment for epilepsy say the change doesn’t go nearly far enough.
The policy tweak will allow researchers to modify or expand existing federally approved CBD studies without having to undergo a potentially time-consuming review by the DEA, which along with the Food and Drug Administration acts as a gatekeeper to cannabis research.
DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno says there currently are 330 active cannabis studies, with more than 70 looking at CBD, a handful of which are clinical studies that may benefit from the new policy.
“If [researchers] adjusted their protocol and the amount they needed, they needed to change their registration,” Carreno explains. DEA review of changes took on average seven weeks, she says, and “if something needs to be modified and that happens frequently and every time it happens it takes seven weeks, you could see some very significant time saving from this adjustment.”
Though some policy reform advocates greeted the development with cautious optimism, Coalition for Access Now founder Paige Figi, who treats her epileptic 9-year-old daughter Charlotte with the compound, was unflinching in her denunciation.
“This is an insignificant development. It’s another baby step that is detrimental and it’s costing people’s lives,” Figi says. “It is not what we are asking whatsoever. If they were going to take a baby step they could not have taken a smaller baby step or a more ineffectual baby step than this.”
Figi, who like many parents credits CBD with the near-miraculous recovery of her child, says “it’s exhausting to see the baby steps that they are patting themselves on the back for that absolutely do not affect us.” Only a couple hundred kids have participated in CBD clinical studies, she says, when many more could benefit with farther-reaching DEA action.
After a recent wave of state legislation, CBD now is obtainable across most of the U.S., but federal prohibition on cannabis makes research a time-consuming and complex process. A solution supported by Figi would remove low-THC cannabis from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act, which legally defines the plant as having potential for abuse and no accepted medical value.
The change could be made administratively, but is more likely to happen through legislation, perhaps through a bill co-sponsored by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. If that were to happen, industrial hemp would be legal federally and CBD could be treated as a dietary supplement.
The DEA’s new policy change happened, Carreno says, because the agency is “reviewing the processes to see how we can streamline them, so we saw this and said, ‘Well this is something we could do something about!’”
But critics of the DEA hope the agency will do a lot more streamlining, and soon.
Mike Liszewski, government affairs director at the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, says he welcomes the new DEA reform, “but in terms of progress, this is barely moving the issue forward.”
“This minor revision will only improve the lives of a relatively small handful of patients, and not for years to come,” he says, adding “research into single cannabinoids denies patients the benefits of research into the full range of cannabinoids that whole plant cannabis offers naturally.”
Liszewski’s group and the marijuana reform movement more broadly want the DEA-mandated one-farm monopoly on research marijuana to be ended, a reform that actually is support by Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which oversees the farm.
In a recent interview with U.S. News, Volkow expressed concern that the single grow location is not equipped to rapidly breed new crops with specific cannabinoid profiles requested for research.
Volkow says there have been meetings with the DEA about expanding grow locations, but “there’s not really consensus” on what to do.