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Psychologists Group Slams Barriers To Marijuana Research



The U.S.’s largest organization of psychology professionals is urging the federal government to stop making it so hard for researchers to study marijuana.

“Major barriers to research are preventing scientists from pursuing the full range of research that is needed to understand the impacts of recreational and therapeutic use of cannabinoids,” the American Psychological Association (APA) said in a recent advocacy briefing. “Marijuana and its constituent compounds are categorized as Schedule I (having no Food and Drug Administration-approved therapeutic use), and all research conducted with marijuana requires that investigators register with the DEA.”

APA, which represents more than 115,000 scientists, clinicians and educators, pointed out that the process to register to study cannabis “can take more than a year to complete and creates administrative burdens that serve as significant disincentives to pursuing research” and that Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) oversight “involves redundant scientific protocol review.”

The Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule I — the most restrictive category — is supposed to be reserved for drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. Researchers have long complained that marijuana’s classification there creates additional hurdles that don’t exist for studies on other substances.

Heroin and LSD are also in Schedule I alongside cannabis, yet cocaine and methamphetamine are classified in the less-restrictive Schedule II category.

While APA isn’t calling for changes to marijuana’s criminal penalties, its criticism of the roadblocks to marijuana research created by the drug’s current federal classification adds to a growing consensus that something needs to change.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee called on federal agencies last month to prepare a report on the ways Schedule I limits cannabis research.

Also last month, California lawmakers passed a joint resolution calling for federal marijuana rescheduling.

APA, in its advocacy briefing, pointed out that DEA’s role in the marijuana research process creates unnecessary confusion.

“Investigators often report that the guidance they receive is unclear and that DEA inspections, security requirements and variable experiences with state DEA field offices add to the obstacles they face,” the organization said.

The organization, working in a coalition with other groups — including leading prohibitionist outfit Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) — is supporting a new bipartisan Senate bill to remove some of the barriers to cannabis research.

That legislation was filed last month by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and an initial list of four cosponsors. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) added her name to the bill on Monday.

“By creating an exception for marijuana from the current obstacles of Schedule I registration and review procedures, the bill provides a sensible streamlined approach for the review of applications and granting of registrations to conduct research with marijuana,” APA, SAM and other groups including the American Pain Society, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine wrote in their sign-on letter.

Photo courtesy of Interiorrain.

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Marijuana Industry Employment Has ‘Positive Outcomes’ For Workers, Study Finds



Employment in the cannabis industry is “associated with positive outcomes for workers and their organizations,” a new study concludes.

“Colorado cannabis workers were generally job secure and valued safety,” the study, published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine on Wednesday, concludes.

The researchers from Colorado State University and the University of Colorado surveyed 214 cannabis industry workers in jobs that “touch the plant,” finding that in general, “participants reported that safety was valued at their respective organizations.”

“Our results regarding health and safety were generally positive. Specifically, workers perceived relatively low stressors. They felt secure in their jobs and did not perceive their work roles as being ambiguous, conflicting, and/or overly burdensome. Additionally, workers perceived a relatively strong safety climate at work, with highest regard for the value that management places on safety. In other words, most workers felt that safety was valued by their organizations, supervisors, and coworkers.”

The findings weren’t all rosy, however, as survey participants reported “some occupational injuries and exposures” as well as “inconsistent training practices.” Twenty-six percent said they had never received health and safety training on the job.

While 66 percent of workers reported having “never experienced symptoms after handling pesticides,” some said they’d experienced skin irritation. Other said they dealt with work-related health problems such as back and knee pain, as well as air quality, ergonomic and respiratory issues.

“There is an imminent need to establish formal health and safety training to implement best practices,” the study’s authors wrote.

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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GOP Leaders’ Bill Could Let Patients Use Medical Marijuana



A Republican-backed bill working its way through Congress could have the unintended consequence of allowing seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana.

Under legislation set to be voted on by the House of Representatives on Tuesday, patients with terminal diseases would be able to access drugs that have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The proposal, known as the “Right to Try Act,” lays out certain criteria for what can be considered an “eligible investigational drug,” all of which marijuana appears to meet.

The proposal, known as the “Right to Try Act,” lays out certain criteria for what can be considered an “eligible investigational drug,” all of which marijuana appears to meet.

In order to qualify, a drug has to have completed a phase 1 clinical trial, be under active development and not yet have been approved or licensed for any legal use by the federal government. An eligible medicine also needs to be the subject of an active investigational new drug application and under investigation in a clinical trial intended to form the basis of a claim of effectiveness in support of approval or licensure by the FDA.

Thanks to research being funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), cannabis seems to fit the bill.

The organization, which began its quest for investigational new drug status for marijuana in 2010, is currently in the middle of Phase 2 clinical trials on the use of cannabis by military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The goal is to turn whole-plant marijuana into a legal, FDA-approved prescription medicine.

In the meantime, while the congressional bill appears to open the door to legal access to marijuana, only the most gravely ill patients would qualify.

To access cannabis, they would need to be in “a stage of a disease or condition in which there is reasonable likelihood that death will occur within a matter of months, or a disease or condition that would result in significant irreversible morbidity that is likely to lead to severely premature death.”

They would also need to have “exhausted approved treatment options” and not be eligible to otherwise participate in ongoing clinical trials on the drug because they don’t meet inclusion criteria or live within geographic proximity of where the study is taking place.

“Making medical marijuana available for terminally ill patients would certainly be a significant step forward for federal policy. If MAPS’s current Phase 2 clinical trial of marijuana for symptoms of PTSD in military veterans qualifies marijuana for use under the proposed Right to Try Act, then the trial will already have helped a lot of people,” Brad Burge, MAPS’s director of strategic communications, said in an interview. “Still, only making marijuana available for those on the verge of dying isn’t nearly enough, and the best thing the federal government can do for patients is to end the federal monopoly on marijuana for research currently being upheld by Jeff Sessions.”

Under longstanding U.S. policy, all marijuana used in scientific research is grown at a University of Mississippi farm licensed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Researchers have long complained that it is difficult to obtain cannabis from the government-sponsored lab and that the product is often of low quality. In 2016, the Obama administration moved to allow more cultivation facilities, but the Department of Justice under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reportedly blocked the Drug Enforcement Administration from acting on any of the license applications it has so far received.

Because the Right to Try bill is being brought forth on an expedited basis known as “suspension of the rules,” it needs support from two-thirds of House members present and voting, with a roll call expected to take place Tuesday evening. A similar bill was approved by the Senate last August.

If the House passes the legislation, the two chambers will work to reconcile the versions into a single proposal to be sent to President Trump, who pledged his support during his State of the Union address in January.

Republican and Democratic staffers for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over food and drug safety, did not respond to a request for comment.

State-based legislation that explicitly outlines a right to try cannabis for terminally ill patients has advanced this year in Utah and Missouri.

UPDATE: The bill fell just short of getting the necessary two-thirds support it needed to pass the House under suspension of the rules on Tuesday evening.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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Veterans Groups Battle Medical Marijuana Ban On Capitol Hill



Several of the U.S.’s most prominent veterans advocacy organizations are stepping up the push for medical marijuana.

During two hearings on Capitol Hill this week, leaders of veterans service groups called on Congress to force the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to do more to provide access to and conduct research on medical cannabis.

“This is the year that our views will be heard on cannabis,” Melissa Bryant, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in front of a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees on Tuesday.

“Veterans consistently and passionately have communicated that cannabis offers effective help in tackling some of the most pressing injuries we face when returning from war,” she added in written testimony. “Policies are outdated, research is lacking, and stigma persists. In 2018, IAVA members will set out to change that and launch a national conversation underscoring the need for bipartisan, data-based, common-sense solutions that can bring relief to millions, save taxpayers billions and create thousands of jobs for veterans nationwide. Those solutions must include the approval of medical cannabis for every veteran in America who needs it.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars is on board as well.

“VA mental health care is making a positive impact on those who use it, but there is still room for improvement,” Keith Harman, the national commander in chief for VFW, said in testimony for a separate hearing before the panels on Wednesday. “The VFW urges Congress and VA to conduct a federally-funded study with veteran participants for medical cannabis. This study should have a focus on participants who have PTSD, but should most definitely include veteran participants who are VA patients for chronic pain and oncology.”

The American Legion the nation’s largest military veterans advocacy group, prominently included a call for medical marijuana reform at the VA in an appearance before the committees last month.

American Legion Pushes Congress On Medical Marijuana At Hearing

“The federal government continues to list cannabis as a Schedule I drug – the most addictive and dangerous – although its addiction rates are lower than alcohol, and the less-restrictive Schedule II classification applies to opioids, which kill 91 Americans every day,” American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan said. “By continuing to consider accumulating evidence of the efficacy of cannabis-based medicines, the federal schedule fails patients fighting debilitating conditions, including PTSD and potentially lethal opioid addiction.”

Lawmakers also spoke up in support of increased access to cannabis this week.

“A lot of [veterans] have recently been telling me that they don’t want opioids,” Congressman Lou Correa (D-CA) said during the Wednesday hearing. “They don’t want those drugs in their bodies, and they prefer medical cannabis.”

While Veterans Affairs Sec. David Shulkin has consistently maintained that the VA is barred by federal law from recommending medical cannabis or even participating in research on the drug, the department quietly updated its website last month to acknowledge that it “can look at marijuana as an option for treating Veterans.”

Advocates have pointed out that there is no overarching federal law blocking the VA from changing its own internal policies on marijuana.

In her written testimony for this week’s hearing, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s Bryant slammed VA for not letting veterans access medical cannabis recommendations from the doctors who know them best. The group also supports the continuance of far-reaching protections that prevent the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws:

“However, despite strong support from across all geographies, generations and political backgrounds of veterans, progress on this issue with the VA has been slow and incremental–and lags behind the needs of veterans and the changing reality of state-level laws. In late 2017, the Veterans Health Administration issued a policy change which urged patients to discuss medical marijuana use with their doctors. The shift allows doctors and patients to determine what, if any, effect cannabis use might have on treatment plans. This policy change alleviates previous concern that admitting to cannabis use could jeopardize VA benefits, a policy recommendation noted in IAVA’s Policy Agenda. But VA physicians still cannot refer patients to legally sanctioned state medical cannabis programs because of the federal prohibition. Moreover, patients are not allowed to have any cannabis on VA property, even if it is medically prescribed to them and the state they are living in allows it. And VA employees are still barred from using any form of cannabis, including medical cannabis, while roughly one-third of VA employees are veterans and may want access to cannabis as a treatment option.

“Further, in opposition to strong and rising popular opinion across the veterans community, the VA Secretary announced in early 2018 that the VA will not conduct research into whether medical cannabis could help veterans suffering from PTSD and chronic pain. This is despite protest from many in the VSO community who posit medical cannabis could serve as an alternative to opioids and antidepressants…

“IAVA will join select VSO partners in 2018 to amplify the voices of our collective members and urge Congress and the VA to pass and implement common sense legislation and policy sanctioning the use of medical cannabis by veterans. We will push to close the loopholes in VA policy which inhibit the discussion of cannabis usage between veterans and VA clinicians; current VA medical cannabis policy should be updated to allow for VA clinicians to provide recommendations and opinions to patients regarding medical cannabis programs. We urge the VA to conduct research into the use of medical cannabis as a treatment option for chronic pain and mental health injuries. IAVA also calls on Congress to pass legislation to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug from a Schedule I drug. Finally, IAVA calls for support to Senate FY 2018 Commerce/Justice/Science Appropriations (S. 1662/Sect. 538) language that prohibits the Department of Justice from preventing implementation of state cannabis access laws, including for medical purposes.”

Written testimony from VFW’s Harman also detailed the benefits of cannabis and called for more research:

“In the past several years PTSD and TBI have been thrust into the forefront of the medical community and general public in large part due to suicides and overmedication of veterans. Medical cannabis is currently legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia. Many of these states have conducted research for mental health, chronic pain and oncology at the state level. States that have legalized medical cannabis have also seen a 15-35 percent decrease in opioid overdose and abuse. There is currently substantial evidence from a comprehensive study by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academic Press which concludes cannabinoids are effective for treating chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, sleep disturbances related to obstructive sleep apnea, multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms, and fibromyalgia –– all of which are prevalent in the veteran population.

“In April 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration approved a study on the effect of medical marijuana on PTSD, which was intended to be the first federally funded, randomized and controlled research for PTSD in the United States. That study has not gone as planned for multiple reasons, however, such as restrictions placed on possible study participants and unusable marijuana shipments from the only federally-approved grower in the United States.”

The House and Senate have both passed amendments in recent years to allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans in states where it is legal, but the measures have not been enacted into law.

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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