To Unlock the Potential of Cannabis, The Industry Needs More Research

Cannabis has amazing potential but the industry needs to be able to do more research. SHUTTERSTOCK

By Kevin Murphy

A recent spate of vaping-related lung illnesses has lawmakers and health officials calling for more testing of legal cannabis products. But because cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug by the federal government, states’ hands are tied when it comes to testing. One way to open the door to more cannabis testing is to remove the research restrictions in place due to cannabis having Schedule I designation.

Congress declared cannabis a Schedule I drug — the most restrictive classification — nearly 50 years ago when it passed the Controlled Substances Act. While the law has been revised several times, cannabis remains grouped in the same Schedule I category as drugs like heroin, LSD and ecstasy, even though it is far less addictive and dangerous. Schedule I drugs are defined as those with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse which belies the numerous studies that have shown the medicinal benefits of cannabis, particularly its positive effect on patients with epilepsy and other serious conditions.

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) classification of cannabis is a catch-22. Its Schedule I status can only be removedwith more tests to prove its benefits, but these tests are incredibly difficult to carry out due to its status. In order to be allowed to conduct tests on cannabis, researchers have to get permission from the DEA and when they do get permission, they’re only allowed to use cannabis grown in the one lab, housed at the University of Mississippi, that has federal permission to grow and study cannabis and provide it to other labs for testing. The DEA recently announced plans to expand cannabis research in the U.S. In late August, after a years-long hiatus in communications between the agency and potential growers, federal officials said they would soon resume contact with groups that have applied to register to manufacture cannabis for researchers.

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