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MARIJUANA AS MEDICINE?: The Science Beyond the Controversy
lines. The Canadian agency will provide research-grade marijuana for approved studies and up to $1.5 million a year in funding through 2004. Studies of smoked marijuana will receive support only if they use the drug to treat terminally ill patients or are used in short-term clinical trials as a basis of comparison with other therapies. As in the United States, researchers must submit an IND application to the Canadian equivalent of the FDA before beginning clinical trials.
Health Canada's advisory committee declined to specify particular symptoms as acceptable candidates for experimental treatment with marijuana. By contrast, the NIDA guidelines refer applicants to recommendations made by the 1997 National Institutes of Health Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana. That panel identified several promising therapeutic areas for marijuana research, including neuropathic pain, muscular spasticity, glaucoma, and wasting syndromes of AIDS and cancer.
The workshop report also notes the heavy regulatory burden on researchers who study controlled substances, particularly Schedule I substances such as marijuana. As a result, the report concludes, many scientists “have been discouraged from pursuing research with these substances. ” A 1995 IOM report on the development of addiction medication reached much the same conclusion, leading its authors to recommend that federal regulations be modified to remove barriers to research on controlled substances.17
NIDA's new guidelines may make marijuana more widely available for clinical studies, but they also leave intact regulations that pose significant hurdles to marijuana research. Whether the promise of marijuana-based medicines will lure scientists to overcome these barriers remains to be seen, but at the moment such a change appears unlikely. At the time of this writing, nearly nine months after NIDA published its revised guidelines, the agency had received only two requests for research-grade marijuana.
1. Bonnie RJ and Whitebread CH. 1974. The Marihuana Conviction: A History of Marihuana Prohibition in theUnited States. Charlottesville: University