Monday, December 12, 2005

Medical marijuana: Researcher challenges federal monopoly on production

For decades, the federal government has been the nation's only legal producer of marijuana for medical research. Working with growers at the University of Mississippi, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has controlled both the quality and distribution of the drug for the past 36 years. But for the first time the government's monopoly on research marijuana is under serious legal challenge. The effort is being spearheaded by a group that wants to produce medicines from currently illegal psychedelic drugs and by a professor at the University of Massachusetts who has agreed to grow marijuana for the group if the government lets him.
"By controlling who can research marijuana and how they can do it, the DEA has greatly limited promising research that could lead to [government] approved medications," [Richard] Doblin [president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)] said. The problems, he said, are not limited to winning approval to buy the Mississippi marijuana. Doblin and other researchers contend that the government marijuana is low in quality and potency and could never be a stable source of basic ingredients if the Food and Drug Administration ever did approve a marijuana-based medication.

To me, this bears some resemblance to federal government funding restrictions on stem cell research: complex political and societal judgments about right and wrong stand in the way of research that, if successful in producing technology that reduces human suffering, would likely result in adjustments to those judgments. On the other hand, there's no sense in giving science a blank check just because its purpose is noble.

What to do?

Link to Washinton Post story.


Beth said...

We have an entire cabinet full of DEA controlled drugs in the lab... it doesn't mean that the govn't dictates the type of experiments we can do, it just monitors and limits the use of them to protect from abuse.
It is a bit different from the stem cell thing b/c stem cell research isn't controlled or banned in the US- the govn't has just decided not to fund it with taxpayers money since many taxpayers have problems with. Private corporations - the ones who will eventually financially profit from research is doing the research.

Doug Lee-Knowles said...

Sure, I acknowledge that the stem-cell limitations are only on federal funding, but in both cases, isn't the government to some extent in control of the raw materials of science? If it's true that the feds are growing substandard pot, isn't that hobbling the limited amount of research that is allowed to proceed?

I'm not a scientist, but I'm guessing that having a bottle of MDMA in the lab is different from having a bottle full of dried plant material. With MDMA, you either have MDMA, or you have something else. With marijuana, you may have a bunch of dried-up green stuff, but you're probably not interested in researching the properties of dried-up green stuff, you're interested in something that may or may not be in the green stuff. Think of all the different kinds of tomatoes at the farmer's market. What if you could only get the little bitty yellow ones?

Beth said...

There is lots of research on the chemicals thought to be the active ingredients in pot- THC, which is isolated from the plant. Chemistry is chemistry- if your isolating a chemical you know how much you get at the end so if you have a bad pot crop you can isolate more. So it would be the same as your example MDMA.

The real issue is that taking a pill with THC or the other active chemicals in pot is not as effective as smoking it. Smoking pot is illigal, and so research involving smoking it is illegal too. So... for better pot research they need to figure out all of the active ingredients in pot or legalize it... I imgaine "bad" plants have all the same chemicals "good" plants to, it would be a different quanitity- which would be eliminated as an issue when you isolate the chemicals.

I'm thinking this is an argument that is being used to get pot legalized... and I think there are better arguments.