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Research

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 20, 2019

    A widely reported study appearing today in the British journal The Lancet alleges that an estimated 30 to 50 percent of psychosis cases in Europe are due to cannabis exposure, and that exposure to elevated levels of THC increases this risk.

    NORML has previously written on the data showing a multi-directional association between cannabis and psychiatric illnesses, and we have cautioned that those predisposed to psychosis or other disorders may be at higher risk for adverse events.

    That said, it remains premature at best, and sensational at worst to claim that a causal relationship exists between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders on the basis of this new paper. That is because, by the observational nature of its design, this study at best can only demonstrate a correlation.

    Nonetheless, despite this limitation, the authors boldly “assume causality.” Given the fact that such a cause-and-effect relationship remains unproven and there as of yet exists no consensus among experts that such causation exists, their assumption is, at best, highly questionable.

    Moreover, it is well established that those with psychiatric illness typically use all intoxicants at greater rates than do the general public, so the fact that those admitted to institutions for first-episode psychosis are more likely to consume cannabis than are those in the general population is hardly surprising. But it is not evidence that marijuana in any way causes the condition. Rather, this association may exist because many psychiatric patients are self-medicating with cannabis. Or, this relationship may persist because many people predisposed to psychosis are similarly predisposed to also using cannabis — a theory that is supported by many experts in the field.

    Perhaps most importantly, the fact that cannabis has been used by various populations for decades at disparate rates, yet rates of psychosis and other psychiatric disorders have generally remained static over this same period of time, strongly argues against a direct causal relationship.

    Finally, authors’ presumptions specific to the supposed disparate effects of cannabis based upon THC potency are also highly questionable. This is because subjects in the study self-reported their cannabis use. As a result, authors had no ability to verify the THC content of the marijuana consumed by participants. Further, the cannabis consumed by subjects in the study was largely obtained via black market channels — leaving the users equally in the dark with regard to its actual cannabinoid content.

    Nonetheless, despite these limitations, the concerns raised in this paper and others ought to be taken seriously, and they provide an argument in favor of greater regulation of the plant so that it can be better kept out of the hands of young people and those who may be at higher risk for an adverse reaction. But maintaining cannabis prohibition, unfortunately, achieves neither result. Placed in this context, these latest scare-mongering claims — even if taken at face value — do little to advance arguments in favor of tightening prohibition, and provides ample ammunition to wage for its repeal.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 1, 2019

    The American Psychological Association (APA) is urging US Attorney General William Barr to review more than two-dozen pending applications for federal marijuana grow licenses. In a letter dated Wednesday, February 27, the association urged the Justice Department to “act immediately” on 26 applications pending before federal officials – applications which were initially submitted to the agency over two years ago.

    Currently, the sole federally licensed producer of cannabis for clinical research is the University of Mississippi. The University has held the exclusive license for more than four decades.

    In August 2016, the US Drug Enforcement Administration announced in the US Federal Register that the agency was “adopting a new policy that is designed to increase the number of entities registered under the Controlled Substances Act to grow (manufacture) marijuana to supply legitimate researchers in the United States.” The agency said that the policy change was necessary because the existing system provided “no clear legal pathway for commercial enterprises to produce marijuana for product development.”

    Last year, however, former DEA director Robert Patterson testified to Congress that the agency believed that approving additional applicants would likely violate international anti-drug treaties. Patterson said that DEA could not move forward granting any new applications until the Justice Department clarified the issue.

    In its letter to the newly appointed Attorney General, APA CEO Arthur C. Evans urged the Department “to take immediate action on the existing pool of cannabis grower applications so that the United States scientific community can continue to expand the study of both the harmful and potential therapeutic effects of cannabis and its derivatives. … Without access to an expanded range of cannabis products engineered under FDA-approved Good Manufacturing Practices, scientific research cannot hope to keep pace with the ever expanding recreational and medicinal cannabis marketplace.” The APA represents nearly 120,000 researchers and clinicians.

    Also on Wednesday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) asked US Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb whether he believed that it is possible for a US-based company to bring a marijuana plant-derived drug to market in light of the existing federal prohibitions on licensing. The Commissioner answered equivocally, stating “It depends.” He later acknowledged that these restrictions have led many “companies [to] go overseas to conduct research with foreign-grown product that is more easily sourced for the purposes of clinical trials.”

    The longstanding federal prohibition on privately licensed cannabis producers exists despite a 2007 ruling by the DEA’s own administrative law judge striking down the ban as not “in the public interest.” Although that ruling ordered DEA to lift the ban, the agency failed to do so.

  • by NORML February 13, 2019

    Today, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced legislation, The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to expand and facilitate medical cannabis access to military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, and other serious medical conditions.

    Under existing regulations, VA doctors are not permitted to fill out the mandatory paperwork necessary to recommend cannabis therapy in those 33 states that regulate it. Passage of The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act ends this discrimination against veterans and prevents sanctions against VA doctors who wish to recommend medical cannabis treatment to their patients.

    Click here to send a message to your federal lawmakers now!

    “The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would provide crucial medical and civil protections for the men and women who put their lives on the line to serve this country. It is unconscionable that these brave individuals who protect our nation’s freedoms would be treated as criminals when they return home just for treating their medical ailments with a safe and effective option,” said Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director. “We applaud and appreciate the leadership by Senator Schatz and Rep. Lee in putting forward this legislation.”

    “Historically, veteran and military communities have long been at the forefront of American social change, catalyzing the widespread acceptance of evolving cultural norms and perceptions surrounding racial, gender, and sexual equality. The therapeutic use of cannabis by veterans follows this trend and members of Congress should follow their lead and pass the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act,” Strekal concluded.

    “In 33 states, doctors and their patients have the option to use medical marijuana to manage pain—unless those doctors work for the VA and their patients are veterans,” Senator Schatz said. “This bill gives VA doctors in these states the option to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, and it also promises to shed light on how medical marijuana can help with the nation’s opioid epidemic.”

    “As the daughter of a veteran, I am committed to ensuring that our veterans have access to the quality and comprehensive medical care they deserve – including medical marijuana. The current federal prohibitions on cannabis are unnecessary, harmful, and counterproductive,” said Congresswoman Lee. “The federal government should never stand between our veterans and their medicine. This critical legislation is a long overdue step to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed health care decisions, without political interference.”

    You can read NORML’s Fact Sheet on Marijuana and Veterans Issues HERE.

    A copy of the bill is available here.

    A recent American Legion poll found that nearly one in four veterans use marijuana to alleviate a medical condition. A 2017 review of over 10,000 studies by the National Academy of Sciences concluded, “There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis and cannabinoids are effective for the treatment for chronic pain in adults.”

    Send a message to your federal lawmakers in support of the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act by clicking here now.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director January 24, 2019

    Representatives Lou Correa (D-CA) and Clay Higgins (R-LA) and Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) have introduced legislation, HR 712 / S. 179: The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2019 to facilitate federally-sponsored clinical research into the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis among veterans.

    The legislation “would direct VA to conduct clinical research with varying forms of medicinal cannabis to evaluate the safety and effects of cannabis on health outcomes of veterans with PTSD and veterans with chronic pain.”

    Click here to send a message to your lawmakers and encourage them to cosponsor the bill

    This legislation is similar, yet stronger, to a bill by the same name that successfully passed the House Veterans Affairs Committee last year yet was denied consideration by the full House of Representatives by Republican congressional leadership.

    Upon introduction, Rep. Lou Correa said, “Last year my bill became the first cannabis bill to pass the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. This year I will work to make this the first veterans cannabis bill to pass the House. The momentum, support, and dedication are there. We need to get this done for our veterans. With the opioid crisis raging across America, it is imperative to the health and safety of our veterans that we find alternative treatments for chronic pain and service-related injuries.”

    According to nationwide survey data conducted by The American Legion in 2017, 39 percent of respondents affirmed that they “know a veteran” who is using the plant medicinally. Furthermore, twenty-two percent of respondents said they themselves “use cannabis to treat a mental or physical condition.”

    Click here to send a message to your lawmakers and encourage them to cosponsor the bill

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director January 17, 2019

    A bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers has introduced The Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2019 (HR 601), to facilitate federally-approved clinical trials involving cannabis.

    Click here to send a message to your Representative and urge them to support the measure. 

    The act ends the University of Mississippi’s existing monopoly on the growth of cannabis for clinical research purposes, by requiring the licensing of additional manufacturers.

    To date, the US National Institute on Drug Abuse designates the University of Mississippi to be the sole provider of marijuana for FDA-approved research. However, many of those familiar with their product have criticized its quality, opining that it possesses subpar potency, is often poorly manicured, and that it does not accurately reflect the wide variety of cannabis products and strains available to consumers.

    As the result of a lawsuit, DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner in 2007 ruled that expanding the pool of federally licensed providers would be “in the public interest.” The agency ultimately rejected her decision. More recently, in 2016, the DEA changed its position and amended regulations in a manner to permit additional applicants to apply to federal licensure to grow marijuana. However, the United State’s Attorney General’s office has thus far failed to take action on any pending applications.

    Other provisions in the measure explicitly permits VA physicians to provide information to patients regarding their eligibility in clinical trials, and provides a “safe harbor” for universities, clinicians, and patients participating in federally-approved trials from federal interference.

    Click here to send a message to your federal lawmaker and urge them to support the measure. 

    A similar version of this bill was passed in the House Judiciary Committee in 2018 yet was not taken up by the full chamber.

    At the time the bill passed committee, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano praised the effort, saying, “The federal hurdles in place that currently discourage clinicians from engaging in clinical cannabis research have long been onerous and irrational. It is high time that lawmakers recognize this problem and take action to amend it so that investigators may conduct the same sort of high-quality clinical research with cannabis that they do with other substances.”