Remember when the DEA chief called medical cannabis “a joke”? There are signs the Drug Enforcement Administration’s tune is changing, but like most things involving the federal government and cannabis, its position is still a portrait of contradiction.
Under a new policy announced Wednesday, the DEA is easing requirements for clinical trials involving cannabidiol. The change aims to “streamline the research process regarding CBD’s possible medicinal value and help foster ongoing scientific studies,” it said in a release.
Essentially the move cuts through some of the red tape facing cannabis-related studies. Effective immediately, researchers in FDA-approved clinical trials can apply for a permit to possess an “approved amount” of cannabidiol for research, allowing research teams to obtain their supply more seamlessly.
Prior to the change, if a trial ran out of cannabidiol and needed to acquire more, researchers would have to issue a request in writing to modify their DEA registration. That would set in motion an approval process involving both the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration, potentially delaying studies or interrupting treatment. The new policy removes that step.
Despite the agency’s ballyhoo over helping to “foster ongoing scientific studies,” it’s worth noting that the DEA still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning the agency denies that it offers any medical benefits. For decades, that classification has also stifled investigations into therapeutic uses for cannabis, frustrating researchers and patients alike.
But you can only fight science for so long. Earlier this month, researchers presented data showing CBD’s promise in helping treat seizures in children with epilepsy. And thousands have used cannabis to alleviate symptoms associated with chemotherapy, wasting syndrome, AIDS, and a long list of other ailments.
In its release, the DEA seems to acknowledge cannabis’s medical potential while at the same time reminding us that it remains more tightly regulated than opium or cocaine:
“Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance because of the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient. Because CBD contains less than 1 percent THC and has shown some potential medicinal value, there is great interest in studying it for medical applications. Currently, CBD is a Schedule I controlled substance as defined under the CSA.”
UPDATE: Medical cannabis advocates are welcoming Wednesday’s DEA policy change but say that it’s only a minor piece of much-needed reform. “Any reduction in the barriers to research is a positive step,” Don Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access, told Leafly. “Having said that, this simple procedural change falls far short of what is needed to facilitate widespread research on whole-plant cannabis and all of its components.”
“While CBD is promising medicine for some patients, whole-plant cannabis is likely to have the broadest application and best efficacy. ASA does not oppose CBD-oriented laws or regulations. However, we do not see these limited laws as the best solution for most patients. Researchers and patients should have access to a wide variety of cannabis and cannabis products, including those with a balanced THC/CBD profile. We must remember that THC and the numerous lesser understood cannabinoids are good medicine, too.
“We also need to end the NIDA [National Institute on Drug Abuse] monopoly on cannabis for research. Rescheduling or de-scheduling cannabis is an important step towards facilitating research and providing access for researchers. The CARERS Act, which is currently before Congress, would reschedule cannabis to Schedule II in the CSA [Controlled Substances Act], and exempt states with medical cannabis laws from the restriction in the CSAall together (effectively de-scheduling it).”