Senior federal drug official is personally reluctant to study marijuana due to barriers to Schedule I research


The top federal drug researcher even says she’s reluctant to conduct studies on Schedule I drugs like marijuana because of the “onerous” rules scientists face when studying them.

Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), made the comments during a forum on Wednesday moderated by The Hill and sponsored by the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR) which also included lawmakers from the Congress, state regulators. and industry stakeholders.

Volkow has spoken on several occasions about barriers to marijuana research in the United States, where scientists have to overcome bureaucratic hurdles to access cannabis for study. This is because the plant is designated as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, the most restrictive category.

But it’s not just your average researcher who struggles to navigate the complex application process. Volkow, who heads America’s largest pharmaceutical science agency, said she personally avoids studying Schedule I substances because of federal bureaucracy.

“One of the obstacles that has been noted is that cannabis, marijuana, as a Schedule I substance, requires certain procedures which can in fact be very long,” she said. noted. “In some cases, it turns researchers away from wanting to study it because it’s just a lot heavier than doing studies with other substances.”

“I can attest to that. As a researcher, I am always hesitant to do research with Schedule I drugs. I do research on human subjects. [and] it’s much bulkier, ”Volkow said. “And that’s what we also hear from our grantees, that it takes a lot longer to get approval to initiate research, and it’s more expensive, and it actually delays the progress of everything. the world.”

The director also explained how interpretations of international treaties by other federal agencies have restricted research by ensuring that scientists were only able to obtain marijuana for research from a single authorized federal agency. by NIDA.

She said that “it is very limiting because you can imagine that there is a wide variety of plants with very different properties – and so, since we are limited to one product, it actually goes to in many ways against the goal of understanding the components that are responsible for the therapeutic benefits.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is taking action to approve other cannabis manufacturers, but Volkow said in a previous interview with Marijuana Moment that she should go further by allowing scientists to access cannabis from dispensaries. legal.

Additionally, in a recent interview with FiveThirtyEight, the official raised her eyebrows when she said she had yet to see scientific evidence indicating that occasional adult cannabis use is seriously harmful.

Volkow also reiterated separate concerns during the new Hill event that she has had with the damage done by drug criminalization, something she has touched on in several other interviews and editorials recently.

“I think the stigma that surrounds it, and continues to surround drug addiction and drug use, has actually compromised our ability to intervene in both prevention and treatment,” she said. “Our society as a whole has criminalized people who use drugs, and this has been shown time and time again that not only is it not beneficial, but it actually exacerbates the results of individuals who are put in jail or in prison. prison for drug use. “

Highlighting the racial disparities in the application of the bans, she said that “the criminalization of drug users has also exacerbated health inequalities by favoring incarceration or certain groups”.

The current policy is “very negative about how we have criminalized our drug addicts,” the top drug science official said. “But also this stigma has prevented the health system from genuinely engaging in the screening and appropriate treatment of individuals, whether they are in the early stages of a soft drug use disorder where intervention can help them. and prevent them from escalating, intervening people who already have a moderate or severe substance use disorder which, currently, if left untreated, could in fact have a higher risk of very negative outcomes, including including death.

The conversation with Vokow was just one part of the high-profile event on Hill, which was also attended by Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Representative Nancy Mace (R-SC) and others.

Hickenlooper, who served as governor of Colorado when the state became one of the first to legalize marijuana via the ballot, spoke of his past opposition to reform and how he has since found concerns about the societal risks of legalization were unfounded.

“I believe we should deprogram marijuana. I think the evidence overwhelmingly shows that we should postpone it, ”he said. “I think we should recognize the injustices of the past [of prohibition] and we should use this downgrading process — essentially legalizing marijuana — to address some of these inequalities and ensure that the communities that suffered the most during the war on drugs receive some of the benefits of these changes. attitude towards marijuana. “

He was also asked about the possibility of passing cannabis banking reform through defense spending legislation and said he had not been in Congress long enough to be sure, but “I think it makes extremely sense to allow banks in the states where it has been legalized.

Mace, meanwhile, is the sponsor of a new Republican-led bill to legalize marijuana that she sees as a compromise between the comprehensive proposals Democrats are pushing for and the scaled-down reform measures by her GOP colleagues. .

She said she tried to “make sure I bring forward a bill that makes sense, that is very pragmatic and that actually has something for everyone.”

Academics and a California state cannabis regulator, among others, also spoke at the event.

Biparty lawmakers push for VA to allow veterans access to medical marijuana “as soon as possible”

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