Over 20 states in the U.S. have legalized medical marijuana, and two have legalized personal use of the drug, although it remains prohibited at the federal level. More than 1 million Americans currently use marijuana for medical purposes, typically for chronic pain, persistent nausea, cancer, AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, or glaucoma. However, there has been limited research into the efficacy of marijuana for these and other conditions, with a large amount of the evidence anecdotal.
Limitations Due To Classification
With marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, there are limitations on conducting research into the medical uses of the drug, as well as restrictions on prescribing the drug. Schedule 1 means that there is no medical purposes to the drug, so it is more tightly controlled than cocaine and methamphetamine, which are both Schedule 2 drugs. This classification makes it very difficult for researchers to conduct experiments to determine if there are any benefits to marijuana, as evidenced by a proposed research project from the University of Arizona.
Suzanne A. Sisley, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona medical school, has wanted to conduct research into the medical use of marijuana for three years, specifically its effectiveness as treatment for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). She received permission from the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011, and Arizona has altered the law so she could have the drugs on campus.
However, Sisley and her team still face impediments to their research, including awaiting approval from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Additionally, they could not purchase the marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the only federally sanctioned place to obtain the drug for research purposes.
Last week, the researchers came one step closer to their research project when the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) granted permission for the research, an approval that might indicate a shift in U.S. policy on the drug. Funding for the research comes from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which has tried for 22 years to get federal approval to perform marijuana drug development research.
MAPS has been performing research on the drug for decades, but this is the first time that it will be able to purchase the drug from NIDA. Purchasing the drugs from NIDA ensures a specific potency and purity of the drug, which provides more reliable findings from research. However, the researchers still have to wait to be cleared by the DEA before they can begin clinical trials.
Searching For Results
The University of Arizona study will use five different varieties of marijuana in an attempt to identify potential benefits for PTSD treatment. It has been hypothesized, based on anecdotal evidence, that the drug can calm the over-stimulated parts of the brain.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that it can suppress many of the symptoms, including flashbacks, insomnia and anxiety. If this research is approved, it might be the beginning of more medical research into the efficacy of marijuana on various medical conditions, including PTSD.
The study will take 10 weeks and involve 50 veterans. The researchers will use various doses of marijuana to see whether it is an effective treatment for PTSD, and which dosage is the most beneficial. It will also test for a difference in the efficacy of the drug whether a person smokes or vaporizes it. The study could lead to development of pharmaceutical drug based on the marijuana plant. However, in order to understand the side effects and dosage, further research will need to be conducted.
This study will be one of the few approved by the DHHS and the NIDA that involves researching the medical benefits of the drug, rather than the harmful effects. “This is a great day. The merits of a rigorous scientific trial have finally trumped politics,” Sisley said regarding the approval, adding. “We never relented. But most other scientists have chosen not to even apply. The process is so onerous. With the implementation of this study and the data generated, this could lead to other crucial research projects.”
This and additional research would provide more information about the various conditions marijuana could treat, rather than relying solely on anecdotal evidence. With enough research behind the efficacy of marijuana, it could lead to FDA regulating the drug as a prescription drug. This could help patients by providing guidelines that ensure a certain potency and purity to the drugs they receive, along with knowledge about any adverse side effects.
The American Medical Association has been working towards the reclassification of marijuana to make it easier to perform research into the medicinal purposes of the drug, as well as making it easier to prescribe. Currently, as a Schedule I drug, doctors cannot actually prescribe the drug to patients.
They can only recommend it, and then patients can go to a medical marijuana facility in the states where it is legal, as long as the condition is approved for medical marijuana treatment by the state. With marijuana still illegal at the federal level, it is up to each state to decide whether to allow medical marijuana, as well as what conditions can be treated.
A few states already allow medical marijuana for PTSD: New Mexico, Delaware, Oregon, Connecticut, Maine and Nevada. Recently, Michigan also approved marijuana for PTSD.
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