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The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Dr Nora Volkow, recently admitted that she is reluctant to research Schedule I drugs because of the “cumbersome” rules and restrictions associated with these compounds. Marijuana is classified under Schedule I in the U.S. According to Dr Nora Volkow and other researchers, this means that conducting cannabis research is an uphill task.
Dr Volkow, who heads NIDA, is a world-renowned researcher who has led research investigating the neurobiology of obesity, substance abuse, and its effects on the brain, ADHD, and ageing. NIDA funds research focusing on health, drug use, and substance addiction. She made the comments during a forum initiated by The Hill and sponsored by the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR). The panel featured high profile lawmakers, including Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC).
Several factors have impeded marijuana research, emanating from the schedule I status. Researchers have to jump several regulatory hoops to get approval to conduct marijuana research. The process is usually lengthy and cumbersome, making it very costly. Even with the approval, access to cannabis raw materials for research is limited. For a long time, researchers have had to source their raw materials from one federally approved source; the University of Mississippi.
Researchers have often complained about the limitation of dealing with one source for raw materials. Cannabis occurs in hundreds of cultivars that have different chemical properties. Restricting the source of raw materials to one supplier defeats the purpose of researching the therapeutic potential of the components of marijuana.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been approving more grow facilities as legal sources for marijuana for research. Recently, the DEA approved a 300 million cannabis research facility in New Mexico. This facility, the brainchild of Bright Green Corporation, will provide a wide range of quality raw materials for cannabis research.
Rep. Nancy Mace, who took part in the forum, recently sponsored a bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level. Her bill, which seeks a pragmatic approach to marijuana legalization, seems to compromise the Democrat-championed bill.
The prohibition of marijuana was a deterrent to marijuana research for many years. In the last decade, hundreds of studies have been conducted to investigate the therapeutic potential of the bioactive molecules in cannabis and how they work together to provide ensemble benefits. However, researchers still have to battle through federal red tape because marijuana is still illegal under federal law. This has discouraged several researchers from conducting marijuana research. The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Dr Nora Volkow, is just but one of the numerous discouraged researchers who would rather stay away from the field, at least for now.