16 April 2016
By way of introduction they write….
For neuroscientist Chuanhai Cao, the problem with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug can be summed up in two words: dead mice.
Cao, a researcher at the University of South Florida’s Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, uses transgenic mice to study the effect of the marijuana component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on amyloid beta, the protein that forms the plaque found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Timing is critical in his work—the mice, which are difficult to breed, have to be a specific age at the time of an experiment. One Cao project, designed for 12-month-old mice, was delayed three months while the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) processed the complicated paperwork that all marijuana researchers must submit under the current system. Some of the mice died while Cao waited for the approvals he needed to acquire the THC for the experiment; he ended up with too few animals that were all too old to generate useful data. “It was a disaster,” he says.
The sting of that calamity, and of similar DEA-related snafus in labs around the country, could be soothed somewhat this summer if the agency decides in July to remove marijuana from its Schedule I list of controlled substances, which includes heroin, and reclassify it. “I’d be very excited to see that,” says Cao, who wants marijuana moved to Schedule III, which includes drugs like Tylenol with codeine and involves a less arduous DEA approval process.
Sachin Patel, an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine who studies “the role of endogenous cannabinoids as mediators of stress resiliency,” would be satisfied with a more modest change. “Rescheduling cannabis as Schedule II will allow the research to get done that needs to be done to determine if this is going to be a good medicine, and for what,” says Patel, who has been researching cannabis for 15 years. Schedule II lists drugs deemed to have a high potential for abuse, including oxycodone or Percocet.
Marijuana is widely recognized as an often-effective treatment for a variety of common conditions. Even though it remains illegal at the federal level, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized its use for chronic pain, nausea, glaucoma, migraine and more. But researchers like Patel and Cao believe cannabis has even greater potential in the treatment of major disorders including Alzheimer’s, cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder and autoimmune diseases. They have committed their careers to it and, despite the onerous restrictions and endless hassles—Patel once waited six months for a DEA green-light—they have made real progress and routinely published their findings. A decision by the DEA to reschedule, although it will not completely remove the onus of illegality or the burden on scientists, could launch a new era in marijuana research.