Washington, DC: Representatives Scott Peters (D-CA) and David Joyce (R-OH) have introduced legislation, the Developing and Nationalizing Key Cannabis Research Act of 2022, to provide designated funding for clinical research into the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.
The legislation authorizes the Director of the National Institutes of Health to designate “institutions of higher education as Centers for Excellence in Cannabis Research for the purpose of interdisciplinary research related to cannabis and other biomedical, behavioral, and social issues related to cannabis.” This research will explicitly include clinical investigations assessing “the safety and efficacy of cannabis in providing therapeutic benefits for certain priority diseases or conditions” as well as studies evaluating “the relative risk of cannabis as compared to alcohol and tobacco,” among other purposes.
To carry out this work, the measure appropriates $50,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2024 to 2028 to ten designated research centers. It also allows scientists affiliated with these designated centers to obtain state-legal cannabis products and to administer those products to subjects in clinical trials.
Under current federal law and regulations, researchers are prohibited from clinically evaluating any state-licensed products. Rather, scientists wishing to study cannabis in clinical settings must utilize cannabis provided by federally-licensed entities – of which there has been only one (the University of Mississippi) for more than 50+ years. (In May 2021, the agency announced that it had reached agreements with a handful of third-party applicants to allow them to grow cannabis for use in federally approved clinical trials. However, the US National Institute on Drug Abuse has yet to officially partner with any of these entities and there is no explicit timeline as to when they will do so.) Scientists have long complained that the quality of cannabis provided by the University of Mississippi’s cultivation program is of inferior quality and that it is not representative of the products available in state-legal markets.
Last month, members of the US House of Representatives voted in favor of legislation, “The Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act,” to facilitate cannabis-specific scientific research and potential drug development. That language is anticipated to be fast-tracked to the President’s desk. However, it does not authorize scientists to access cannabis flowers and other products manufactured in accordance with state-approved marijuana programs.
“This proposed legislation is long overdue,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “It seeks to address knowledge gaps by providing dedicated funding so that scientists can better understand the safety and efficacy of real-world products – products that are currently being consumed by patients and by others daily in the majority of states in America.”
Despite federal hurdles, scientific interest and studies involving cannabis have increased significantly over the past two decades. Since 2010, scientists in the US and around the world have published an estimated 30,000 peer-reviewed papers referencing the cannabis plant or its constituents, with the annual number of total papers increasing every year. By comparison, researchers published fewer than 3,000 total papers about marijuana in the years between 1990 and 1999 and fewer than 2,000 total studies during the 1980s.
Additional information on pending federal legislation is available from NORML’s ‘Take Action Center.’