According to the DEA, cannabis is classed as a schedule I drug because it has a high potential for abuse and no medicinal value and is, therefore illegal. If cannabis was medicinally useless, no one would be crying foul but we all know this simply isn’t true. The cannabis cat has been let out of the bag and there is no stuffing it back in, but there are plenty of ways to delay the inevitable.
In April 2016, Douglas C. Throckmorton, M.D. presented FDA Regulation of Marijuana: Past Actions, Future Plans at the ICSB/ASP joint meeting. One of the central messages was: “FDA needs to do all it can to support the needed scientific research with marijuana to characterize its therapeutic promise.” At first blush, it seems that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. How can something claimed at the federal level to have no medicinal value have, at the same time, therapeutic promise? It’s quite simple really because cannabis is a plant and doesn’t fit neatly into the pharmaceutical drug paradigm. It doesn’t check all the right boxes of “Currently Accepted Medical Use” outlined by Throckmorton:
1. The drug’s chemistry is known and reproducible
2. There are adequate safety studies
3. There are adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy
4. The drug is accepted by qualified experts
5. The scientific evidence is widely available
Marijuana Research Monopoly
Of course marijuana can’t live up to any of these, mostly because research on the whole plant has been blocked at every turn. NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) is the only DEA-licensed marijuana supplier, which means that up to mid-2015, if you wanted to research cannabis and were not government funded, you had to obtain it from NIDA through the Public Health Service (PHS) review process. This onerous process only applied to marijuana but not, oddly enough, to the likes of cocaine, heroin, MDMA, LSD, or psilocybin.
The problem is that NIDA was established to research drug harm and to put an end to drug abuse and their mandate was to condemn marijuana as an illicit drug, not to support it as a medicine. Even if you had legitimate research aims, an FDA-approved protocol and sufficient funding (all huge issues on their own), your chances of getting your hands on the plant were slim to none. This has put marijuana research on the back foot for decades.
Back to the presentation mentioned above, we have this in the conclusion: “FDA is committed to making this process as efficient as possible and looking for ways to speed the availability of new drugs from marijuana for the American public.” See what they did there? The emphasis is not on the plant but on the ‘new’ drugs isolated from the plant, the ones they can patent. Keeping marijuana illegal serves vested financial interests but it doesn’t serve the public.
Dr. Michael Morgenstern is a double board certified neurologist, also certified to treat addiction. He treats patients with medical marijuana at Morgenstern Medical in Manhattan, New Hyde Park and Syosset, helping many of them to wean off of prescription opioids. He is the founder of the NY Medical Marijuana Association. He can be reached at [email protected]