New US law promises to shed light on marijuana research | Science

It just got easier for US scientists to get their hands on pot for research.

President Joe Biden today signed into law a bill that makes it easier for marijuana to be used in medical research. New law It’s expected to speed up government approvals for scientists who want to study cannabis, and while the drug’s promise has been publicized, with a few exceptions it remains unproven. It will also speed up applications from manufacturers, including universities, who want to grow and distribute drugs for research. It also mandated the federal government to ensure an adequate and continuous supply of marijuana to scientists.

“Now we’re going to be able to treat marijuana like any other substance or drug, and we hope it’s going to be beneficial. We’re going to be able to put it through rigorous scientific testing,” said Dr. said Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a former NIH-funded researcher.

“It’s exciting,” says Ziva Cooper, director of the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Center at the University of California (UC) in Los Angeles. “The bill is an important step in removing barriers,” for the study. Scientists are keen to explore cannabis and its derivatives as potential therapeutic approaches cancer, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions.

Other cannabis researchers applauded the new law, but said it doesn’t go far enough. In particular, they are disappointed that it was not included a provision of the previous bill This would have allowed scientists to purchase and study marijuana, accessible to consumers in the 37 states that have legalized recreational and medical use.

“There’s no substitute for studying the real products that our patients and recreational users are using,” said Stacey Gruber, a neuroscientist who is testing cannabis and its compounds for the treatment of several conditions at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts.

Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug under US criminal law, along with heroin and LSD. This means that both the scientists and farmers who supply the drug for research must obtain a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) permit and follow strict safety rules for drug storage and handling. But researchers say it can take a year or more for the DEA to respond to permit applications.

The new law stipulates that within 60 days of receiving a researcher’s application, the organization must approve it, request additional information, or present its reasons for rejection. If the researcher submits additional information at his request, the DEA has 30 days to make a decision. The law would make it easier for researchers to amend their research protocols, and the DEA could no longer require stricter safety measures for marijuana than for other Schedule I drugs.

“The biggest improvement in this bill is the deadline [DEA’s] response time,” said Larry Walker, a pharmacologist at the University of Mississippi who applied for the study’s registration.

Walker is the former director of the University of Mississippi Center and for decades was the only DEA-registered grower allowed to supply cannabis to US scientists. But researchers have complained that the center’s pot isn’t as potent as what’s being marketed to regular or medical users. Since last yearSix more growers, all companies, have been registered to produce marijuana for DEA research.

Those firms should be able to supply U.S. researchers indefinitely, said Steven Groff, founder and chief medical officer of Groff North America in Pennsylvania. His firm supplies major research universities with smoked marijuana, vaping products, food products, beverages and soft chewable tablets (such as gummies), he said. He dismissed claims by scientists that DEA-registered companies could not provide cannabis products widely used in legal dispensaries. “The legend is over,” he said. “We will now be able to easily provide these materials to researchers.”

Researchers can at least count on having enough resources. The new law requires the attorney general to report annually to Congress on whether the supply of DEA-controlled marijuana is uninterrupted and adequate for research needs, and to identify and address deficiencies. It also ordered the NIH to produce a report within 1 year outlining the barriers to research in states that have legalized marijuana, and how to overcome those barriers.

Meanwhile, many researchers want the federal government to do more to decriminalize marijuana, especially delisting the Schedule I category. The list shows that marijuana is “unequivocally harmful and … medically unproven,” said Igor Grant, director of San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, even though the US Food and Drug Administration has approved several cannabis-based drugs. treatment. “This [listing] This continues to be a significant barrier, barrier, and burden to medical research,” Grant said.

In October, Biden ordered Attorney General to Consider Cannabis Reclassification. If it moves to Schedule II, Pot will join several other approved drugs on that list, including morphine and Adderall, a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

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