What others say: Rescheduling marijuana could boost research

  • Monday, April 25, 2016 5:57pm
  • Opinion

The federal government says it’s
reviewing marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug, a move that — regardless of what you think about the drug — is long overdue. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency made the announcement in a memo to lawmakers and said it hopes to have a decision ready sometime in the first half of this year.

Marijuana has long been classified as a Schedule 1 drug, but the classification is as ludicrous today as it was back in the day. The Schedule 1 category is for substances which are not considered to have “any currently accepted medical use in the U.S., a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision and a high potential for abuse.” By point of comparison, heroin also is a Schedule 1 drug.

There’s no reason for marijuana to be listed as a Schedule 1 drug — and, besides, that bit of business about not having any accepted medical use will come as a surprise to the millions of medical marijuana users in the United States.

There’s another reason why the Schedule 1 listing is vexing: It has needlessly complicated important scientific research, not just into marijuana, but also into industrial hemp, potentially a very useful crop. (Industrial hemp, which can be used for a variety of purposes, has very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol — the substance that gets pot users high.) It was almost amusing to watch Oregon State University officials tip-toe around this issue last year before taking tentative steps to allow researchers there to work with industrial hemp. (To be fair, an institution such as OSU will be careful about working with a Schedule 1 drug, especially since it’s potentially putting millions of federal research dollars at risk.)

But there’s a lot of research yet to be done into the medicinal qualities of marijuana as well, and pulling pot off the Schedule 1 list would be a substantial step forward for that work.

A recent interview in The Oregonian with Dr. Colin Roberts, a pediatric neurologist and director of the Doernbecher Childhood Epilepsy Program at the Oregon Health and Science University, illuminated some of the issues researchers face. Roberts is working with a pharmaceutical company on a drug made with pure cannabidiol that has shown promise in treating patients with a form of epilepsy.

One big problem with the Schedule 1 designation is that it requires researchers to undergo a cumbersome approval process before working with a drug on the list. In the case of marijuana, researchers must use pot grown at a government-run facility at the University of Mississippi.

Researchers can’t just go out and buy pot at a dispensary, because there’s no way to verify precisely what they’re buying — and remember that different strains of marijuana have very different properties. Taking pot off the Schedule 1 list would allow researchers to obtain the sort of independent verification that’s essential for meaningful research.

“What we really need in the medical community is really good data,” Roberts told The Oregonian, “because if we don’t have that we will never understand the impact of these products good and bad.”

Pulling marijuana from the Schedule 1 list would be a first step toward getting that kind of good data. What’s the holdup?

—Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 21

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