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Culture » Smoke Signals

Oregon's U.S. Senators Urge Removal of Barriers to Cannabis Research

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On April 15, Oregon's U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer and 24 other members of Congress urged President Obama to remove barriers to research on medical marijuana. This would facilitate new medical research on cannabis and its derivatives that has not been possible in the U.S. under current federal law enforced by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

For years, medical marijuana advocates have been telling physicians, politicians, and anyone else who will listen about people whose epileptic seizures were effectively controlled by cannabis. GW Pharmaceuticals, a British biopharmaceutical company, is completing its Phase 3 trials for its cannabis-based epilepsy treatment drug, Epidiolex. It is also known for its multiple sclerosis treatment drug Sativex, which was the first cannabis derivative to gain market approval when it went on sale in the UK in 2010. Sativex has regulatory approval in more than 20 countries, but not the United States.

In the letter to President Obama, the senators and representatives cited the need for modern scientific research in the U.S.: "Twenty-three states have passed laws establishing medical cannabis programs and an additional seventeen have passed laws regarding the medical use of cannabidiol (CBD), a compound derived from cannabis," they wrote. "Despite these developments, researchers, doctors, and patients in these forty states are still subject to federal barriers impeding innovation and medical research. Until we have comprehensive scientific research on the medical risks and benefits of cannabis and its derivatives, we will continue to debate this issue on the basis of outdated ideology instead of modern science."

The letter specifically requests that President Obama direct the DEA to conduct a fair and transparent review of Schedule I restrictions on medical cannabis, citing the lack of scientific evaluation for its classification. Secondly, the letter bids the President to end the DEA-mandated monopoly held by the University of Mississippi, holding the sole contract to research the drug from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

GW Pharmaceuticals in the U.K. was founded in 1998 to profit from the medical benefits of cannabis by creating drugs that use the various ingredients of cannabis without producing the "high" of consuming cannabis itself. The company explains that cannabinoids interact with important neurotransmitter/neuromodulatory systems and consequently have far-reaching promise in diverse therapeutic areas. Following the trials, GW Pharmaceuticals plans to meet with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to work toward approval of its drug Epidiolex to treat epilepsy in the U.S.

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