Why don’t we know more about the efficacy of medical marijuana? Well, it may partly be because most people don’t pay attention to research done on any drug until they happen to need it. But, as with so many of the decisions being made in our healthcare system, the answer is one of financing.
The cost of getting a new drug to market can be as high as 350 million dollars and can take up to 12 years. But a new decision by President Obama just made the process of privately-funded medical marijuana research a little easier. In the past, conducting marijuana research required these four steps:
- Submit a study proposal to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be reviewed for “scientific validity and ethical soundness.”
- Submit a seperate proposal to the Public Health Service for a review almost exactly the same as the FDA’s.
- Obtain a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
- Secure a supply of medical-grade marijuana from the Drug Supply Program. The DSP is maintained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse which holds a monopoly on the medical marijuana which is allowed for research use in the U.S.
These steps–which only allow scientists to begin the long and expensive process of research–are time confusing and complicated enough to discourage potential breakthroughs. It’s only reasonable that regulations for testing potential medicines should be strenuous, but step number two, having a proposal reviewed by the Public Health Service, is not required for researching any other drug on the market. Not even heroin or cocaine. Even many proponents of marijuana legalization view the process as unjust.
A Step in the Right Direction
As of June 22, a second review from the PHS will no longer be neccesary. Advocates for medical marijuana shouldn’t get their hopes too high because of this change. There are still more hurdles to researching marijuana than for any other drug. For one, NIDA’s monopoly on the legal production of medical marijuana is non-existant for any other contolled substance. Procuring herion for research is easier than getting medical marijuana.
Experts say in addition to breaking NIDA’s monopoly, the next step is to move marijuana out of the Schedule 1 category. The DEA currently includes marijuana on the same list as heroin, LSD, Ecstacy, Quaaludes and Bath Salts.
Of course, big pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to invest the money or years of research needed to produce medicines from marijuana when the raw ingredient is relatively inexpensive and easy to come by–legal or not. But many advocates of medical marijuana believe we’ve only just begun to learn how marijuana can ease suffering and prevent and reverse disease. Scientists are currently researching medical marijuana’s effect on disorders such as inflammatory bowel diease, rheumatiod arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. With a new change in regulations made into law by the Obama administration, that research just got a little bit easier.