UCLA Scientists Struggle to Legally Find Cannabis for Research

Dr. Jeffrey Chen’s team at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is currently looking for usable cannabis for their medical research, and the only place they can legally turn to in the United States is a licensed grow operation at the University of Mississippi. Chen, who is executive director at UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative at The Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, is hesitant about using Mississippi-grown cannabis, but is looking toward Canada as an option instead.

Trying to find cannabis for medical research outside of the U.S. is not an isolated event, and signifies a larger problem—it represents an obstacle that scientists all over America face in order to conduct cannabis research. The lack of medical cannabis studies is not a new complaint, especially with the introduction of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2019. “Too many people claim that there are no studies and no actual reports that exist,” Gabbard told Circa. He also said that people are now demanding “the need for there to be an incontrovertible study that actually just provides the facts.”

Gabbard’s bill seeks to deschedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and then allow states to decide how to regulate cannabis on a local level. “As long as cannabis is Schedule I, the barriers to research are so significant that researchers and health care professionals can’t really do what they need to do,” explained David Mangone of Americans For Safe Access, an association that promotes better access to medical cannabis and  research. “So, any conversation that moves cannabis out of the scheduling is a good one,” he added.

Chen says that lowering cannabis to Schedule IV or V can also be an option they can work with given the present situation—it would likely bring more funding as Schedule IV and V drugs by definition possess medical value. It would also make acquiring cannabis easier, and there would likely be more products to choose from because producer licenses would be easier to obtain.

But a key obstacle that would remain, according to Chen, would be accessing cannabis that is in fact being used by consumers, an essential element for research that would actually lead to real insights. “It’s crazy that from my office in UCLA I can see a dispensary,” Chen told Circa. “But I can’t go anywhere near that stuff.”

“I think now is the time to change the rules about doing research, not to change the rules about the scheduling of the drug overall,” said Rep. Andy Harris. A physician-turned-politician, Harris will be soon introducing a bill that will make medical cannabis research simpler without moving cannabis from Schedule I at all.

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