Why Isn’t There More Medical Marijuana Research? Because The Feds Won’t Allow It, That’s Why!

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 27, 2010

    It’s the ‘Catch-22’ that has plagued medical marijuana advocates and patients for decades. Lawmakers and health regulators demand clinical studies on the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis, but the federal agency in charge of such research bars these investigations from ever taking place.

    But it took until now for the federal government to finally admit it.

    A spokesperson for the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) told The New York Times last week that the agency does “not fund research focused on the potential medical benefits of marijuana.”

    Why is this admission so significant? Here’s why.

    Under federal law, NIDA (along with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) must approve all clinical and preclinical research involving marijuana. NIDA strictly controls which investigators are allowed access to the federal government’s lone research supply of pot – which is authorized via a NIDA contract and cultivated and stored at the University of Mississippi.

    In short, no NIDA approval = no marijuana = no scientific studies. And that is, and always has been, the problem.

    But to the folks over at NIDA, there’s no problem at all.

    Speaking to The New York Times in a January 19, 2010 article entitled, “Researchers Find Medical Study of Marijuana Discouraged,” NIDA spokeswoman Shirley Simson said: “As the National Institute on Drug Abuse, our focus is primarily on the negative consequences of marijuana use. We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”

    Since NIDA presently oversees an estimated 85 percent of the world’s research on controlled substances, the agency’s ban on medical marijuana research isn’t just limited to the United States’ borders; it extends throughout the planet.

    Previous legal attempts to break NIDA’s bureaucratic logjam have failed to weaken the agency’s iron grip.

    In 2007, U.S. DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner ruled that NIDA’s monopolization of marijuana research is not “in the public interest,” and ordered the federal government to allow private manufacturers to produce the drug for research purposes. But in January of last year, DEA Deputy Administrator Michele Leonhart set aside Judge Bittner’s ruling — stating that NIDA possesses “adequate” quantities of cannabis to meet the needs of clinical investigators, and that the agency monopoly on the distribution of marijuana for research is compliant with America’s international treaty obligations. (Notably, on January 26, 2010 President Barack Obama selected Leonhart to be the DEA’s full time Director.)

    Most recently, in November 2009 the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Council on Science and Public Health declared, “Results of short term controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.”

    However, the Council lamented that despite these encouraging preliminary results, “[T]here is a contrast between the relatively small number of patients who have been studied over the past 30 years in controlled clinical trials involving smoked cannabis and survey data from patients with chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that indicates a significant use of cannabis for self management.”

    And just what is the precise reason for this “contrast?” The AMA failed to specify, but to anyone who has followed this issue, the answer is painfully obvious.

    Nevertheless, the AMA still resolved, “[The] AMA urges that marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines.”

    But since any future clinical trials would still require NIDA approval — approval that the agency admits won’t be coming any time soon — it remains unclear what effect, if any, the AMA’s declaration will have on facilitating medical marijuana research. If history is any guide, it’s unlikely that the AMA request — much like the cries of tens of thousands of patients before it — will have any effect on NIDA at all.

    [FYI… You can also comment on this essay on Alternet.org’s newly launched SpeakEasy blog here or on the Huffington Post here.]

    97 responses to “Why Isn’t There More Medical Marijuana Research? Because The Feds Won’t Allow It, That’s Why!”

    1. LetFreedomRing says:

      I can easily tell you why they dont do anymore research. The people in power, which isnt obama believe people shouldnt be free to do what they want. they want to inslave us all or kill us all. We will never be free as long as we do not revolt!

    2. Michael H says:

      The pen is mightier than the sword, #1.

    3. Jed The head says:

      The idea that NIDA should be in control of who studies this substance is a total conflict of interest. They have no reason to allow any study as it would produce results that would endanger their very existence. The truth is it would reduce the need for the DEA and the NIDA. They wouldn’t allow studies in the past and they certainly won’t be allowing any in the future. I say fuck them. The states that have medical cannabis should begin their own studies at state run universities that have adequate research facilities like USC and UCLA.

    4. moldy says:

      That is the last straw! Obama appointed the bitch that Bushies put in there? Just goes to show, same shit, different president. If I would have voted for Ron Paul I wouldn’t feel so betrayed right now.

      Obama, go to hell and please take the other 80% of your weak-ass politicians with you! Your State of the Union address won’t be on in my house.

    5. We here at Montana Biotech are about patients and caregivers doing their own research for now. The feds will not move until they have to.

      We offer cannabis potency testing to help patients and caregivers determine what variety is best for them! We need more peer reviewed research, but until then building a patient/caregiver knowledge base is as close as we can get.

      Montana Biotech wants to see more people interested in making there cannabis use legitimate. One way of doing this is to test medical cannabis for potency and purity. And, make the info available to patients.

    6. gmuny2002 says:

      What do you expect from the Federal government?! They’ve been lying to us for years? Who do u think killed the Kennedys and Martin Luther King and put George Wallace in a wheelchair?! And don’t give me that “lone nut” theory, Oswald, Sirhan and Bremer were “Manchurian Candidates”! And James Earl Ray was set up!

    7. Mark says:

      “In short, no NIDA approval = no marijuana = no scientific studies”.

      It’s not only the funding, but the supply of marijuana as well. You can’t even grow your own supply for research, even if you think that the NIDA supply is schwag. Just ask Dr. Lyle Craker.

      …NIDA spokeswoman Shirley Simson said: “As the National Institute on Drug Abuse, our focus is primarily on the negative consequences of marijuana use. We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”

      So there we have it. NIDA research is purposely skewed for the goverment’s prohibition agenda, but if you want to prove the government wrong, you’re screwed. Skewed and screwed. Just when you thought the purpose of scientific research was to find the truth….

    8. Michael Lemon says:

      Im an American….. dreaming of one day being free.

    9. mrObvious says:

      Companies should be able to get cannabis from a designated medical supplier from another country. From Canada maybe do joint research with a Canadian University with their own supply. do they not consider studies from other countries?

      [Paul Armentano responds: Good idea in theory. Unfortunately U.S. law dictates that any marijuana imported into the U.S. for research purposes requires a DEA-approved “import license,” which the DEA needless to say, will not sign.]