On June 24th, 2015, the Senate Caucus of International Narcotics Control discussed the efficacy of CBD (cannabidiol) and the existing hurdles that are keeping new research from being conducted. The hearing hosted two panels of doctors and federal administrators:
- Mr. Joseph Rannazzisi
Deputy Assistant Administrator of Drug Diversion; DEA
- Dr. Douglas Throckmorton
Deputy Director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research; FDA
- Dr. Nora Volkow
Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse; NIDA
The hearing was aptly called “Cannabidiol: Barriers to Research and Potential Medical Benefits.” Chairmen Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) began the day by laying out the committee’s past actions:
“First, we asked these agencies [Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services] to consider revising regulations that may be inhibiting research into the potential medical applications of CBD. Some, but not all, of these regulations are related to CBD’s status as a Schedule I substance…
The second purpose of our May letter to DOJ and HHS was to ask these agencies to evaluate CBD using the appropriate scientific and medical factors to make a scheduling determination for it that is separate from the whole marijuana plant. If it turns out that CBD may be classified on a lower schedule than the entire marijuana plant, then research on it may proceed somewhat more easily.”
Senator Cory Booker: Advocate for CBD
Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has been a political crusader for sensible cannabis legislation since he assumed office in 2013. One of his main opponents on the road to adequate state-approved cannabis research has been Dr. Kevin Sabet, the co-founder of the anti-legalization organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
Some of the most prominent questioning during the hearing came from Senator Cory Booker, who was able to clearly identify the illogical reasoning behind the current status of cannabis as a Schedule I drug, as seen in this 5 min video. Dr. Sabet appears flustered as he attempts to redirect questions posed by Sen. Booker, who several times had to ask Sabet to maintain composure.
The overall message from Sen. Booker’s line of questioning was this: Will the re-classification of cannabis as a Schedule II drug make it easier for researchers to access the raw material necessary for performing scientific studies that will confirm if cannabis is effective as a medicine? Sen. Booker points out that NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) has a “monopoly” on the cannabis approved for medical testing, and often refuses to grant licensing after lengthy delays in the review process, which results in “reputable researchers, years waiting.” Sen. Booker also asserts that this monopoly puts a “chokehold on the ability [for] us to conduct research.”
Doctors Plead for More Cannabis Research
Dr. John Ingram noted that “[doctors] in the medical field are flying blind… clinical (and basic science) research is limited due to the Schedule I controlled substance nature of CBD as it is derived from the marijuana plant.” Dr. Ingram says that the restrictive language of federal laws regarding access for researchers does not account for the range of cannabis products that are already available for cannabis patients in states with medical programs and legalization. In the summary of his testimony, Dr. Ingram powerfully states:
“We desperately need objective and unbiased data on the safety and efficacy of this product before we can endorse it or safely make recommendations about it. Our urgently existing research set-up is not meeting this mandate. We would welcome any changes to the Federal government’s restrictions on CBD as a research compound for the study of epilepsy…We need consistent access to stable product, fast track processing or redefinition of FDA/DEA credentialing for research and increased funding and scientifically constant product from the NIH/NIDA. Our patients need and deserve it.”
–Dr. John Bradford Ingram MD, University of Mississippi Medical Center
The Results of Discussing CBD at Senate Hearings
This Senate committee is helping make positive changes to help cannabis research move forward. Just last week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that they would eliminate the Public Health Service review required for research approval of cannabis studies. The PHS review overlapped with the FDA review to the point that it was a redundant process that took up valuable research time. This was in a response to a letter sent by this Senate committee, who will continue to discuss the path to more sensible research practices for cannabis.
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