Background: Examples of the medical use of cannabis have existed for thousands of years, not the least of which was the production and distribution of cannabis tinctures by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly at the turn of the 20th century. Yet, the scientific investigation into this important and promising therapeutic substance is not what it could be. Only in the last few years have we seen the needed increases in medical cannabis research, but such studies have predominantly been outside the U.S. Still, even studies inside the U.S. have shown that cannabis can be used to effectively treat neuropathic pain for people living with HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis, as well as treat nausea and stimulate appetite.

Findings: With the use of a science-based approach, several countries around the world are investigating the therapeutic qualities of cannabis and expanding our knowledge base. For example, scientists in Israel are uncovering ways of treating Alzheimer’s with cannabis, and researchers in Spain are studying the effects of cannabis on brain cancer. Unfortunately, in the U.S., a Byzantine approval process hinders scientists’ ability to obtain research grade cannabis for studies and clinical trials. The federal government maintains a monopoly on the production of research grade cannabis and uses an approval process run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Administration, federal agencies with a clear bias against medical cannabis. As a result, scientists in the U.S. face federal hurdles that don’t exist in other countries, which skews and stifles meaningful research. Efforts to overturn the government’s monopoly and employ a more reasonable research approval process have so far failed. Yet, patient advocates continue to fight for increased research, not to establish the medical efficacy of cannabis, that’s been done; to expand our knowledge and understanding of this important therapeutic substance.

Position: According to the DEA’s own Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner expanded medical cannabis research is “in the public interest.” ASA agrees. The federal government should better invest in the therapeutic research of medical cannabis. The monopoly on access to research grade cannabis should be dismantled to allow additional licensed facilities to produce a sufficient, consistent and high quality supply for scientists. The federal government must also create incentives for expanded research and retool the research approval process to eliminate a bias for abuse studies and the onerous requirements unique to the U.S.