Financial publication Bloomberg BusinessWeek this week profiled the nearly impossible process undertaken by U.S. researchers that would like to conduct studies on medical cannabis, but are prohibited from do so because of federal restrictions on cannabis.
The controversy over medical cannabis research, in the Bloomberg piece, is illustrated by the efforts of Lyle Cracker, a professor who teaches botany at the agricultural college of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. For 17 years, Cracker has been trying to obtain a federal license to grow “research grade marijuana” for studies. Cracker first applied in 2001 at the urging of Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which advocates for use of alternative drug therapies, including cannabis.
Cracker told Bloomberg that he has never smoked cannabis or even had a drink of alcohol. And he also told them, “I’m never gonna get the license.” His highest hopes, during the Obama administration, were dashed with the new administration.
Meantime, countries like Israel, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom are leading the globe in medical cannabis research.
“I definitely know for a fact that Israel is way ahead of the United States and they have been for quite some time now,” said nonprofit Cannakids founder and CEO Tracy Ryan in a previous interview with mg magazine.
Her organization advocates for pediatric cannabis oil medicine and Ryan has traveled globally to speak and work with researchers toward creating cannabis medicines for cancer, epilepsy, and autism, among others. Ryan’s daughter, Sophie, has been affected by cancer and started on-going chemotherapy at 1-year old for optic pathway glioma, an aggressive tumor that affects her optic nerve. Now in kindergarten, Ryan attributes her daughter’s remarkable resilience and health to treatment with cannabis oil.
“The Ministry of Health in Israel really believes in [cannabis] as a medicine. They now have gone legal there, as well,” Ryan explained. “You also have Canada leading the charge. Australia is getting in the game. We know researchers in Uruguay, Ireland, and Jamaica. There’s support coming from the powers that be in Jamaica, to do clinical trials there.”
Ryan said that access to medical cannabis has become easier in the United States, with expanded legalization by states. However, federal Schedule 1 classification for cannabis means that it has “no medical value” by definition, and is a harmful drug like cocaine or heroin. It also means that U.S. researchers can make very little progress.
“If you look at the country as a whole, it has gotten more accessible and we’ve had a bunch of states go legal. But even in a lot of these legal states, they don’t have dispensaries on-line yet that have access to quality medication,” Ryan described. “They don’t have concentrates or formulated tinctures for even dosing, so we’re still up a lot of challenges in the industry, but I’m very happy to see where we’ve come in just such short time.
“There are hurdles in the way,” Ryan continued. “But if our government doesn’t allow us to seek the path that we’re trying to walk down, we have a lot of international partners that are ready to take this information and research, and hit the ground running in their countries, and support us in conducting trials abroad.”
The Bloomberg report comes even as more research results seem to indicate that medical cannabis may be effective in treating several serious conditions, including chronic pain, epilepsy, opioid addiction, fibromyalgia, and others.
In an unrelated story, U.S. Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar said last week at a press conference that there is “no such thing as medical marijuana.”