No matter how many states legalize the use of cannabis, either for medical or recreational use, the federal government continues to list cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug – relegating it to the same category as heroin, ecstasy and LSD.
This leads to a Catch-22-type situation. For cannabis to be considered an actual medicine, it has to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And to get FDA approval, it has to pass carefully monitored clinical trials.
Yet as the federally funded National Institute on Drug Abuse makes clear, “So far, researchers haven’t conducted enough large-scale clinical trials that show that the benefits of the marijuana plant (as opposed to its cannabinoid ingredients) outweigh its risks in patients it’s meant to treat.”
That predicament may be about to change. In September, the federal government announced it would spend $3 million to study the effects of CBDs in nine separate research projects. None of the money, though, will go to projects that involve THC.
But it’s a start. As Dr. David Shurtleff, deputy director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, told the Associated Press, “The science is lagging behind the public use and interest. We’re doing our best to catch up here.”
One entity the federal government is trying to catch up to is the state of California.
In July, the School of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside, received its first cannabis grant – a $744,000 award from the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP). The grant, according to a UC-Riverside press release, is aimed at investigating “the impact of long-term cannabis exposure on metabolic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes.”
The TRDRP, which is administered by the University of California’s research grants program office, is funded through the state’s tobacco tax and individual contributions. (In 1988, California voters approved a 25-cent per cigarette pack surtax, devoting 5 cents of each dollar raised to “tobacco-use prevention and reduction.”)
The three-year grant award to UC-Riverside didn’t come without federal stipulations. Nicholas V. DiPatrizio, an assistant professor of biomedical sciences, was obligated to obtain a special authorization to oversee the project: a Drug Enforcement Agency Schedule 1 license.
DiPatrizio and the school he represents clearly determined the tradeoff was worth the trouble, especially if they discover cannabis to have medicinal value, specifically for the ailments they are looking to treat.
“Scientists are still not sure how exactly long-term, or chronic, cannabis use affects health and a variety of tobacco-related pathologies, such as Type 2 Diabetes and other metabolic diseases,” DiPatrizio says.
How will the research be conducted? One thing it won’t involve is requiring a bunch of laboratory scientists and graduate students to sit around and smoke pot.
“We will investigate in wild-type mice whether cannabis exposure is linked to higher incidence of Type-2 diabetes,” DiPatrizio says. “We expect the knowledge we gain in this project will help guide science-based public policy associated with the health impact of short-term and long-term use.”
Public policy that is based on actual science? Now, that’s a worthy goal.
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