Medical marijuana monopoly

Currently, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana, but no other Schedule I drug, that can be used in FDA-approved research. NIDA uses its monopoly power to obstruct research that conflicts with its vested interests. MAPS had two of its FDA-approved medical marijuana protocols rejected by NIDA, preventing the studies from taking place. MAPS has also been trying without success for almost four years to purchase 10 grams of marijuana from NIDA for research into the constituents of the vapor from marijuana vaporizers, a non-smoking drug delivery method that has already been used in one FDA-approved human study.

NIDA has a government granted monopoly on the production of medical marijuana for research purposes. In the past, the institute has refused to supply marijuana to researchers who had obtained all other necessary federal permits. Medical marijuana researchers and activists claim that NIDA, which is not supposed to be a regulatory organization, does not have the authority to effectively regulate who does and doesn’t get to do research with medical marijuana. Jag Davies of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) writes in MAPS Bulletin:[27]

NIDA administers a contract with the University of Mississippi to grow the nation’s only legal cannabis crop for medical and research purposes,[28] including the Compassionate Investigational New Drug program. A Fast Company magazine article pointed out, “Based on the photographic evidence, NIDA’s concoction of seeds, stems, and leaves more closely resembles dried cat brier than cannabis”.[29] An article in Mother Jones magazine describes their crop as “brown, stems-and-seeds-laden, low-potency pot—what’s known on the streets as “schwag””aka “Bobby Brown”[30] United States federal law currently registers cannabis as a Schedule I drug. Medical marijuana researchers typically prefer to use high-potency marijuana, but NIDA’s National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse has been reluctant to provide cannabis with high THC levels, citing safety concerns:[28]

Most clinical studies have been conducted using cannabis cigarettes with a potency of 2-4% THC. However, it is anticipated that there will be requests for cannabis cigarettes with a higher potency or with other mixes of cannabinoids. For example, NIDA has received a request for cigarettes with an 8% potency. The subcommittee notes that very little is known about the clinical pharmacology of this higher potency. Thus, while NIDA research has provided a large body of literature related to the clinical pharmacology of cannabis, research is still needed to establish the safety of new dosage forms and new formulations.

Speaking before the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse, Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project criticized NIDA for refusing to provide researcher Donald Abrams with marijuana for his studies, stating that “after nine months of delay, Dr. Leshner rejected Dr. Abrams’ request for marijuana, on what we believe are political grounds that the FDA-approved protocol is inadequate.”[31]

In May 2006, the Boston Globe reported that:[32]

Then again, it’s not in NIDA’s job description-or even, perhaps, in NIDA’s interests-to grow a world-class marijuana crop. The institute’s director, Nora Volkow, has stressed that it’s “not NIDA’s mission to study the medicinal use of marijuana or to advocate for the establishment of facilities to support this research.” Since NIDA’s stated mission “is to lead the Nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction,” federally supported marijuana research will logically tilt toward the potential harms, not benefits, of cannabis.

Ricaurte’s monkeys

For more details on this topic, see Retracted article on neurotoxicity of ecstasy.

NIDA has drawn criticism for continuing to provide funding to George Ricaurte, who in 2002 conducted a study that was widely touted as proving that MDMA causeddopaminergic neurotoxicity in monkeys.[33] His paper “Severe Dopaminergic Neurotoxicity in Primates After a Common Recreational Dose Regimen of MDMA (‘Ecstasy’)” inScience[34] was later retracted after it became clear that the monkeys had in fact been injected not with MDMA, but with extremely high doses of methamphetamine.[35] A FOIArequest was subsequently filed by MAPS to find out more about the research and NIDA’s involvement in it.[36][37]

Alan Leshner, publisher of Science and former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), has come under fire for endorsing the botched study at its time of publication… Leshner did help NIDA bring home the bacon: NIDA’s budget for Ecstasy research has more than quadrupled over the past five years, from $3.4 million to $15.8 million; the agency funds 85 percent of the world’s drug-abuse research. In 2001, Leshner testified before a Senate subcommittee on “Ecstasy Abuse and Control”; critics say Leshner manipulated brain scans from a 2000 study by Dr. Linda Chang showing no difference between Ecstasy users and control subjects. But NIDA insists it’s independent from political pressures. “We don’t set policy; we don’t create laws,” says Beverly Jackson, the agency’s spokesperson.

Effectiveness of anti-marijuana ad campaigns

In February 2005, Westat, a research company hired by NIDA and funded by The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, reported on its five-year study of the government ad campaigns aimed at dissuading teens from using marijuana, campaigns that cost more than $1 billion between 1998 and 2004. The study found that the ads did not work: “greater exposure to the campaign was associated with weaker anti-drug norms and increases in the perceptions that others use marijuana.” NIDA leaders and the White House drug office did not release the Westat report for a year and a half. NIDA dated Westat’s report as “delivered” in June 2006. In fact, it was delivered in February 2005, according to the Government Accountability Office, the federal watchdog agency charged with reviewing the study.

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