Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Elizabeth Lopatto / Bloomberg News
(Continued from page 1)
Sales associate Crystal Guess packages up a patient’s order inside the Good Meds medical cannabis center in Lakewood, Colo. Washington and Colorado are the only two states that have fully legalized the drug.
Matthew Staver/The Washington Post
Until more laws change, it will be difficult to study an illegal substance with the goal of turning it into a medication, researchers say. And since it's illegal to grow, marijuana isn't subjected to the rigorous quality control most medicines are, raising concerns patients may be at risk from contaminants, said Vereen.
OBSTACLES TO RESEARCH
Marijuana advocates point out inherent obstacles to conducting research: the National Institute on Drug Abuse controls all the cannabis used in approved trials, but the agency's mandate is to study abuse of drugs, not health benefits.
This creates dilemmas. The Food and Drug Administration, for instance, has approved a clinical trial studying whether marijuana can relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The trial, however, which is in the second of three stages of clinical testing, is blocked. NIDA, which controls the legal testing supply of the drug grown at a University of Mississippi farm, has refused to supply the researchers with marijuana.
"NIDA is under a mandate from Congress to find problems with marijuana," said Bob Melamede, CEO of Cannabis Science Inc., a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based company that develops medicines derived from marijuana. "If you want to run a study to show it cures cancer, they will not provide you with marijuana," he said. "What you cannot do are the clinical studies that are necessary."
Attempts to expand licensed facilities beyond the University of Mississippi farm have been denied, including a petition from University of Massachusetts agronomist Lyle Craker. The Drug Enforcement Administration denied that request in 2011, reversing a 2007 recommendation from its own administrative law judge, Mary Ellen Bittner.
NIDA also administered the most projects from 2003 to 2012, overseeing $713 million split among 1,837 research efforts. The bulk of the funding in the past decade was devoted to evaluating marijuana's risks, potential negative impacts on the brain and developing prevention and treatment strategies, according to NIDA.
"There's been a significant amount of study, but not clinical research," said Brad Burge, a spokesman for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit research and advocacy group. What's lacking, says Burge, is "research intended to move marijuana, the plant, through the path to prescription approval by the FDA."
For now, the research that does exist is often contradictory. A survey of 4,400 people found that those who consumed marijuana daily or at least once a week reported less depressed mood than non-users, according to a 2005 report in the journal Addictive Behaviors. A 2010, however, study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse of 14,000 found that anxiety and mood disorders were more common in those who smoked almost every day or daily.