by Anna Hunt, Contributing Writer
Advocates argue that Cannabis needs to undergo legitimate scientific research to examine its potential uses for diseases such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and migraines, as well as for sleep disorders and skin conditions. Even for approved conditions, little research is available to assist the public and doctors in understanding optimum dosages and ideal methods of consumption, i.e. smoking versus eating. But because marijuana is considered a Schedule I illegal substance by the United States Federal government, with possession punishable by anywhere from 6 months to 7 years imprisonment and hefty fines, it is difficult to fund and conduct the necessary research to prove the validity of this controversial medicine.
“[The] AMA urges that marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines.” American Medical Association, Nov 2009
In the state of Arizona, where about 100 medical dispensaries opened earlier this year, activist groups have been lobbying the government to receive additional funding for marijuana research. It was reported by local media that the Arizona State Department of Health Services has a $5 million surplus in its medical marijuana fund, but is not willing to release these funds towards much-needed research. The catch 22 is that the department will not add additional medical conditions to the list of diagnoses eligible for medical marijuana without expensive controlled clinical trials or observational studies. The political figure involved in overseeing the medical marijuana program, Health Director Will Humble, explains: “If I wanted to I still couldn’t do it (release the funds) because the (Arizona Medical Marijuana) act requires that it be used to administer the act, doesn’t talk about research.”
The lack of strong lobbying initiatives from the mainstream medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies could mean that medical marijuana faces a slow process towards decriminalization and full research. Similar to their stance on natural cancer treatments, Big Pharma has very little incentive to pursue medical marijuana research because herbs, roots and plants are natural and therefore are not easily patentable. Hence, the companies involved in creating medicine are not interested in helping in decriminalizing and researching a plant that offers less opportunity for profit.
State advocate groups and local communities are likely continue to face political obstacles regarding a more comprehensive methodology towards understanding the full potential of medical marijuana. If the US Federal government stopped regarding cannabis in the similar category as heroin and methamphetamine, the political climate may become much more favorable, securing research grants may become easier, and getting additional studies approved by federal agencies may at last become possible.
Albeit challenging, studies examining the potential uses of medical marijuana have been taking place around the globe, such as ones conducted by the Center of Medical Cannabis Research (CMCR) at the University of San Diego. The State of California has spent $8.7 million in state funds over the last 10 years for 7 clinical trials conducted by the CMCR, in order to realize the medical benefits of pot and healthy ways to ingest marijuana. AT CMCR and around the world, scientists are investigating cannabinoids’ capacity to moderate autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as their role in the treatment of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
“Every one of the studies showed a benefit…listing of marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no medical use is completely at odds with the existing science.” Dr. Igor Grant, a neuropsychiatrist and director of CMCR.