Legal Complexities Inhibit Medicinal Marijuana Research

Legal Complexities Inhibit Medicinal Marijuana Research
Increasingly, the American public sees the use of medical marijuana as no big deal. As more and more states take strides toward full legalization, opinion poll after opinion poll reveals that MMJ stigma is lessening, slowly but surely. While medical marijuana use is becoming more accepted, medical marijuana research is in many ways just as difficult and restrictive as ever—for reasons that might surprise you.
Did you know, for example, that scientists who wish to study the medicinal effects of marijuana on the body have a harder time obtaining samples than researchers studying “hard” drugs like ecstasy? It’s true: Clinical researchers can ask the DEA for permission to grow or create illegal compounds, ranging from LSD to magic mushrooms, but there is no such option available for obtaining cannabis.

MMJ Research and the Law
This state of affairs goes back at least as far as 1970, when the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 was passed, placing marijuana in the most restrictive use category there is—Schedule 1. What this means, basically, is that in the eyes of the federal government, marijuana has no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. If you want to conduct any kind of research into MMJ, then, you need to have a DEA license and study approval from the FDA. To obtain research-grade marijuana, you have to go a step further, going through the National Institute on Drug Abuse—a process that can be daunting and difficult, to say the least.

A Changing Tide?
Again, there is reason to believe that the general consensus about marijuana use is shifting—and reason to believe that the medical community is on board with that shift. Certainly, there is ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that marijuana can reduce chronic pain, muscle pain, and more, that it can be beneficial for those undergoing cancer treatments and that it can have positive ramifications for patients with PTSD, MS, and other conditions. Meanwhile, what research is available confirms that MMJ can reduce pain, help patients to sleep better, and more.
Meanwhile, both the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians have called for further research into the medicinal uses of marijuana—and for the federal government to reclassify marijuana, making it easier to obtain for purposes of clinical research.

An article from WebMD summarizes some studies that have been conducted—and shown some positive results:
  •  One 1997 clinical trial “found that synthetic THC could ease symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Patients were less agitated and ate better after treatment.”
  • Meanwhile, the article says, various “studies on animal and human cells and a small study on 9 people suggested THC and other cannabinoids… might slow the growth of brain cancer. Multiple lab studies in human cells have also shown the potential for them to slow other kinds of cancers, such as breast cancer and leukemia; no studies in people have taken place.”
  •  More than 45 studies into MMJ and chronic pain—specifically targeting conditions such as fibromyalgia, HIV, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer—have been conducted, and most of them reveal that MMJ can indeed relieve pain.
  • WebMD also notes multiple studies into MMJ as a treatment for digestive disorders, epilepsy, schizophrenia, MS, and beyond.

Research Limitations
These studies all offer ample reason for hope—but sadly, as positive as these studies are, there remain many research impediments. Consider this: The National Institute on Drug Abuse funds ongoing research that’s conducted at the University of Mississippi, where cannabis is grown, harvested, and studied. Sadly, the NIDA’s legal mandate is to look into the harmful effects of controlled substances—not to establish them as medically valuable—and as such, these studies are based more in fear than in the promise of making sick people better.
That is, lamentably, the way a great deal of marijuana research still is—but there is still one further angle of this issue to address.

Your Story
The great thing about living in the Internet Era is that there is so much opportunity for user-generated content—in other words, it’s never been easier for average people to share their stories with the world, through social media and blogs, websites and Internet forums. This provides MMJ patients with a golden opportunity to further ongoing clinical research: You can experiment with different strains, record how they impact your body and mind, and share that anecdotal data with the world.
And yes, the data is anecdotal—but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in value. When enough anecdotal data is combined, it can actually have a powerful and positive effect, shaping ongoing scientific understandings. That’s part of the reason why we started—to provide MMJ patients with an opportunity to share their stories, in hope that the rest of us might benefit!