A powerful congressional committee is expressing concerns about barriers to marijuana research created by the drug’s Schedule I status. The panel also called for studies on CBD and kratom as potential alternatives to opioid-based painkillers in its supplemental report on a spending bill released on Wednesday.
Some of the language around cannabis research has previously appeared in House and Senate Appropriations Committee reports on the relevant legislation, which is meant to designate funds for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.
The House committee said in the new report that it is “concerned that restrictions associated with Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act effectively limit the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain Schedule I drugs, especially marijuana or its component chemicals and new synthetic drugs and analogs.”
“At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs to find antidotes for their harmful effects, we should be lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research,” the committee wrote.
Further, it directed the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to “provide a short report on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule I substances.”
The head of NIDA acknowledged in April that the scheduling status of cannabis under federal law inhibits research.
Elsewhere in the report, the committee stated that it is “concerned that marijuana public policies in States (medical marijuana, recreational use, etc.) are being changed without the benefit of scientific research to help guide those decisions” and that it “encourages [the National Institutes of Health] to continue supporting a full range of research on the health effects of marijuana and its components, including research to understand how marijuana policies affect public health.”
But while that language isn’t quite new, two sections on kratom—a plant that produces painkilling effects and has been touted by advocates as a potential alternative to addictive prescription drugs—are.
In one passage, the committee requested that NIH “expand research on all health impacts of kratom, including its constituent compounds, mitragynine, and 7-hydroxymitragynine.”
“The Committee is aware of the potential promising results of kratom for acute and chronic pain patients who seek safer alternatives to sometimes dangerously addictive and potentially deadly prescription opioids,” the report states.
Additionally, the committee noted that “little research has been done to date on natural products that are used by many to treat pain in place of opioids. These natural plants and substances include kratom and cannabidiol (CBD).”
“Given the wide availability and increased use of these substances, it is imperative to know more about potential risks or benefits, and whether or not they can have a role in finding new and effective non-opioid methods to treat pain,” the committee wrote. It recommended an additional $3 million in appropriations to tackle such research, which should be allocated in the form of center-based grants “to address research which will lead to clinical trials in geographic regions which are among the hardest hit by the opioid crisis.”
Missing from the report and the related legislation is a provision that would protect universities that conduct research on marijuana from losing federal funds. A bipartisan coalition of 26 lawmakers sent a letter to the House appropriations subcommittee that handles the bill requesting that such language be included. But the provisions ultimately were not added into the bill as introduced.
“Our constitutional framework has afforded the whole nation the chance to allow states to differ on many matters of public policy, including cannabis,” the letter stated. “As a result, that same framework should be extended to the protection of research of cannabis at higher education institutions.”
That provision or other cannabis amendments could still be added during Wednesday’s full committee markup or later when the legislation is considered on the House floor.
For now, the bill does, however, include language that has been inserted into spending bills since 1996 that that prohibits universities from using federal dollars to promote “the legalization of any drug or other substance” in Schedule I.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.