With the recent explosion in access to cannabis and CBD-based products, federally-funded scientists need more research into the risks and potential benefits. However, if researchers hope to have more varied sources of cannabis – sources that may better reflect what patients have access to – they may have to hold their breath.
Three years after declaring to want more cannabis suppliers for research, the US government continues to hold a monopoly on culture. While more than two dozen entities have submitted applications to the Drug Enforcement Administration to become producers, the government has dragged its way through paperwork and is growing its own crop; its exclusive supplier, the University of Mississippi, is growing by 2 tons this year, the largest crop in five years, according to an Associated Press report.
Researcher Emily Lindley of the University of Colorado and other researchers are not happy with the situation, according to the AP. Lindley, who is investigating whether cannabis with high levels of THC could be an alternative to chronic-relapsing opioids, said he wants more suppliers than Ole Miss, whose stem varieties and product availability are limited. "We want to study what our patients use," she said.
While patients can comply with state laws on access to cannabis for medical and / or recreational purposes, federally funded researchers must adhere to federal law, which still classifies cannabis as a drug of choice. Schedule I. These drugs are defined as having "high potential for abuse and the potential to create a serious psychological and / or physical dependence". Other drugs in Schedule I are LSD and heroin.
The exclusive agreement between the government and the University of Mississippi for the development of the highly regulated drug dates back to 1968, when a scientist proposed to grow cannabis for research purposes as a . The federal government subsequently entered into a contract with the university as sole source. Although the contracts have a term of five years, no institution has competed with the Mississippi for the transaction.
In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration said it would consider licensing other vendors to facilitate research efforts. "Based on discussions with NIDA [the National Institute on Drug Abuse] and the FDA, the DEA concluded that the best way to meet current researcher demand for a variety of marijuana strains and cannabinoid extracts is to increase the number of federally licensed marijuana growers. " wrote the DEA at the time.
He added that he "fully supports expanding research on the potential medical utility of marijuana and its chemical components".
And since 2016, part of this potential medical utility has been realized. In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved a treatment based on CBD for certain epileptic disorders in children. (CBD, the acronym for cannabidiol, is a component of cannabis that does not cause intoxication nor the euphoric "high" related to cannabis use.)
Nevertheless, the DEA has not responded to more than two dozen requests from potential producers. The AP notes that in June, the Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona asked a Washington court of appeal to order the DEA to process the applications. The case is in progress.
A spokesman for the DEA responded that the agency "was still working on the process and that these requests remained under review", but did not comment on the dispute.