“Frankly, we know far too little about the benefits and risks of smoked marijuana.”
The current status of cannabis as a Schedule I substance is proving a hindrance to research aimed at learning about the drug’s potential effects, argues the director of U.S. federal agency the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Condemning the Schedule 1 status, the resulting roadblock remains as both medical and adult users purchase cannabis from an increasing number of dispensaries in legal states, Dr. Francis Collins noted in an interview last week on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers.
Perhaps to no one’s surprise, Dr. Collins decried the various limitations put in place by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) system of drug scheduling, explaining that the system obstructs researchers’ abilities to study and weigh the potential benefits and hazards of consuming cannabis. “I share… deep concerns about the potential harms that widespread use of marijuana can induce,” he said in the interview.
But the NIH director also noted that while he is concerned, there is a lack of evidence to prove or disprove scientists’ apprehensions. “Frankly, we know far too little about the benefits and risks of smoked marijuana,” he said. “There have been very few studies that have actually rigorously tested that.”
“We are in a funny place, because the way that this currently works in the United States, if NIH is approached about funding a research project on smoked marijuana, there is only one allowed source, which happens to be a farm that we run in Mississippi,” said Dr. Collins.
The farm has been condemned by many critics as producing cannabis that lacks adequate similarities with the cannabis that’s currently available on the market.
“People don’t realize that I run a farm in Mississippi that grows marijuana because I’m required to do so,” Dr. Collins said in reference to the National Institute on Drug Abuse-licensed grow. “But that’s the only source that investigators can use, and it may be rather different than what you could get in one of the states where marijuana is now approved in terms of its constituents.”
The DEA’s limitations surrounding the drug are negatively affecting researchers’ ability to accurately assess the potential of cannabinoids.
“We’d really like to have studies where you’re studying those compounds in pure form so you can see what they’re doing,” Dr. Collins said. “But, again, because of various limitations of Schedule I limits, we are not able to do as much as we would like.”
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Written by Emma Spears