With the recent explosion of cannabis access and CBD products, federally-funded scientists are calling for more research on the potential risks and benefits. But if researchers hoped for more diverse sources of cannabis ̵
Three years after the US government announced that it wanted more cannabis suppliers for research, it still has a monopoly on growing the crop. While more than two dozen companies have applied to the Drug Enforcement Administration for approval as a farmer, the government has slowed down in processing the papers and instead reinforces its own harvest. Its exclusive supplier, the University of Mississippi, is building 2 tons this year, the biggest harvest in five years. This is evident from an Associated Press report.
Orthopedic researcher Emily Lindley of the University of Colorado and other researchers are dissatisfied with the situation, according to AP. Lindley, who is investigating whether cannabis with high THC levels could be an alternative to addictive opioids in chronic low back pain, wants more suppliers than just Ole Miss, whose varieties and product availability are limited. "We want to investigate what our patients use," she said.
While patients may comply with state laws on access to cannabis for medical and / or recreational purposes, government-funded researchers must comply with federal law, which still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug. These drugs are said to have "high potential for abuse and the potential to provoke severe mental and / or physical dependencies." Other List I medicines are LSD and heroin.
The government's exclusive contract with the University of Mississippi to grow the highly-restricted drug dates back to 1968, when a scientist there offered to some colleagues to grow cannabis for research. The Federal Government then concluded a contract with the university as the sole supplier. Although the contracts had a term of five years, no institute attacked Mississippi.
In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it would consider approving other suppliers to support the research effort. "Based on discussions with NIDA [the National Institute on Drug Abuse] and the FDA, the DEA has come to the conclusion that the current need for researchers in a variety of marijuana and cannabinoid extract strains is best achieved by increasing the number of approved by the federal government Marijuana producers can be covered, "wrote the DEA at that time.
It added that it "fully supports the expansion of research into the potential medical benefits of marijuana and its chemical ingredients".
Since 2016, part of this potential medical benefit has been realized. In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved a CBD-based treatment for certain seizure disorders in children. (CBD, the acronym for cannabidiol, is a component of cannabis that causes no poisoning or the euphoric "high" associated with cannabis use.)
The DEA has still not responded to the more than two dozen applications submitted by potential growers. The AP notes that the Arizona Scottsdale Research Institute in June requested an appeal court in DC to mandate DEA to handle the petitions. The case is still ongoing.
A spokesperson for the DEA responded that the agency was still "working on the case and these motions are still being considered", but did not comment on the litigation.