Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Via Nicole Flatow at ThinkProgress, researchers are one step closer to studying the use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD.
On Friday, the federal government took a potentially momentous step back from this position, granting researchers who have for years borne the brunt of this policy access to a legal supply of marijuana. The decision means a psychiatry professor at the University of Arizona who specializes in treating veterans may for the first time be able to perform a triple-blind study on marijuana and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) was granted permission to purchase marijuana fro the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The DEA still needs to sign off but it seems likely that it will given this development.
As I discuss in more detail in this law review article, I find the Controlled Substances Act's research restrictions for Schedule I substances especially hard to defend (or, really, to make any sense of at all).
The CSA places substances into Schedule I if they have no currently accepted medical use. Importantly, this category includes both (1) substances we are fairly certain have no medical value and (2) substances that we think may have promise as medicines even if we aren't yet sure either way. (Marijuana is, of course, the most high profile of the latter sort of substance.)
It seems to me that the two categories should be treated very differently as far as research goes. If we know a substance has no medicinal value, then we arguably lose very little by making it hard to study the substance. But if preliminary studies indicate the substance has medicinal value--as, for example, with marijuana--then I'd think we'd want to encourage further study, not make it more difficult.
The CSA, however, puts up the same roadblocks for studying all Schedule I substances, including those that we think hold medical promise. The only conceivable reasons for doing this are leakage concerns (ie, that substances approved for research will leak into the black market) or that the substance is so very dangerous that we need to be extra cautious when studying its medical value.
Certainly neither of these are legitimate concerns when it comes to marijuana. The only people in the United States who have any trouble getting their hands on marijuana are researchers. And the health risks of marijuana are certainly no worse than many FDA approved drugs.
All this is to say this while the news that the federal government may be easing up when it comes to studying marijuana is worth cheering, the core of the problem remains: a regulatory scheme that makes the study of Schedule I substances difficult, even for substances that have shown promise as medicines.