Newly appointed head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Chuck Rosenberg, says that marijuana is “probably” not as dangerous as heroin.
Rosenberg’s comments, issued Tuesday, are seemingly in conflict with marijuana’s Schedule I classification under federal law, which places it in the same category as heroin and is a lesser category than cocaine. The law defines cannabis and its dozens of distinct cannabinoids as possessing “a high potential for abuse … no currently accepted medical use, … [and] a lack of accepted safety for the use of the drug … under medical supervision.”
Predictably, Rosenberg did emphasize that he believed cannabis posed potential harms, stating:“If you want me to say that marijuana’s not dangerous, I’m not going to say that because I think it is. Do I think it’s as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I’m not an expert.”
However, Rosenberg acknowledged that he has asked DEA offices “to focus their efforts and the resources of the DEA on the most important cases in their jurisdictions, and by and large what they are telling [him] is that the most important cases in their jurisdictions are opioids and heroin.”
Rosenberg’s predecessor, Michelle Leonhart vigorously defended marijuana’s Schedule I classification. She oversaw dozens of raids on medical marijuana providers, criticized the President on his remarks of marijuana’s safety in relation to alcohol, and rejected an administrative petition calling for marijuana rescheduling hearings. NORML is pleased that although the new DEA administrator, by his own admission is not “an expert” on cannabis, he apparently possesses a better grasp on marijuana and it’s evident differences compared to other schedule 1 substances.
Rosenberg’s comments, coupled with those of NIDA Director Nora Volkow publically espousing the safety of CBD indicate that it may no longer be a question of if the federal government will move to reclassify cannabis but when.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, along with seven other Senators, has directed a letter to the Obama administration demanding regulators answer questions specific to the facilitation of research into the medical benefits of marijuana.
Senators acknowledged the need for unbiased research. They wrote, “While the federal government has emphasized research on the potential harms associated with the use of marijuana, there is still very limited research on the potential health benefits of marijuana — despite the fact that millions of Americans are now eligible
by state law to use the drug for medical purposes.”
The Senators applauded a recent decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to eliminate the HHS Public Health Service review process. But they also acknowledged the drawbacks of NIDA’s monopoly on supply of marijuana for research purposes and the need for alternative providers.
Senators also questioned marijuana’s current classification as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law and its classification under international treaties and if the FDA is prepared to call for the reclassification of cannabidiol.
Addressed to the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the letter signals to many that medical marijuana is becoming an even more important issue in the political sphere not only to voters but also to their elected officials.
Co-signing the letter with Senator Warren were Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The Senators are seeking a reply to their questions from the administration by August 31.
States that permit qualified patients to access medical marijuana via dispensaries possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think-tank.
Researchers from the RAND Corporation and the University of California, Irvine assessed the impact of medical marijuana laws on problematic opioid use, as measured by treatment admissions for opioid pain reliever addiction (compiled from the years 1992 to 2012) and by state-level opioid overdose deaths (compiled from the years 1999 to 2013).
“[S]tates permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not,” authors reported. They found that women over the age of 40 showed the most significant decrease in problematic opioid use.
Data published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine reported that the enactment of statewide medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates. “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws,” investigators reported.
Overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics have increased dramatically over the past decade. While fewer than 4,100 opiate-induced fatalities were reported for the year 1999, by 2010 this figure rose to over 16,600 according to an analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control.
An abstract of the study, “Do Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Addictions and Deaths Related to Pain Killers?”, is available online here.
Members of the US Senate at a hearing yesterday expressed skepticism in regard to federal policies limiting the ability of investigators to engage in clinical studies of marijuana’s health benefits.
Senators heard from representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), University of Mississippi Medical Center, Arrowhead Regional Medical Center and Project SAM on a variety of issues
The hearing’s most noteworthy moment came when Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, acknowledged that the monopoly on marijuana cultivation for research purposes ought to be amended. Currently, NIDA contracts strictly with the University of Mississippi to grow marijuana for use in research studies. This has led to a cannabis supply that is often delayed significantly and lacking in quality.
Dr. Volkow was supported in her acknowledgement by Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, Deputy Director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research with the FDA who answered, “Yes, I think there are advantages to a broad supply of varied marijuana.”
When questioned on whether or not other drugs in the Schedule 1 classification experience this same monopoly, Dr. Volkow said no and there was no scientific reason to treat them differently.
This acknowledgement by Dr. Volkow falls in line with a previous ruling by a DEA administrative law judge in 2007 which was later set aside by former DEA Director, Michele Leonhart.
Other topics discussed at the hearing included expanded access programs which have currently authorized treatment for 400 patients in the U.S. using Epidiolex. Epidiolex is a formulated product containing cannabidiol (CBD) that possesses orphan drug status from the FDA to treat pediatric epilepsy.
While it is clear that Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and Booker (D-NJ) are making strides to reform federal medical marijuana law, it remains to be seen if Senator Grassley (R-IA), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) will also take action.
The enactment of state laws legalizing the use and distribution of cannabis for medical purposes has not caused an increase in marijuana use by adolescents, according to the results of a federally funded study published this week in Lancet Psychiatry.
Investigators at Columbia University in New York and the University of Michigan assessed the relationship between state medical marijuana laws and rates of self-reported adolescent marijuana use over a 24-year period in a sampling of over one million adolescents in 48 states. Researchers reported no increase in teens’ overall use of the plant that could be attributable to changes in law, and acknowledged a “robust” decrease in use among 8th graders.
They concluded: “[T]he results of this study showed no evidence for an increase in adolescent marijuana use after the passage of state laws permitting use of marijuana for medical purposes. … [C]oncerns that increased marijuana use is an unintended effect of state marijuana laws seem unfounded.”
The study’s results are consistent with the findings of previous assessments — such as those available here, here, here, here, and here. But this latest study is the most well designed and comprehensive assessment performed to date.
Full text of the study, “Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: results from annual, repeated cross-sectional surveys,” appears online here.