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Friends of NIDA Present Cannabinoid Research on the Hill

March 1, 2019

On February 27th, FABBS co-sponsored a congressional briefing held by the Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) on “Opportunities and Challenges in Cannabinoid Research”.  

The well-attended briefing began with an overview of the state of cannabis research, presented by NIDA Director, Nora Volkow, MD. Volkow mentioned that though much attention has been placed on the opioid epidemic, research on marijuana and its effects is still urgently needed. A survey from 2017 indicated that over 24 million American adults used marijuana in the last month, and the trend is increasing. In addition, the potency of the main psychoactive component of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has tripled in the past twenty years.

The panel also included researchers – Alan Budney, PhD (Dartmouth College, Geisel School of Medicine), Margaret Haney, PhD (Columbia University, Irving Medical Center), Elise Weerts, PhD (Johns Hopkins, School of Medicine). Budney and Weerts are members of FABBS affiliate, APA Division 28: Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse.

Haney reminded us of the wide range of opinions on marijuana, from its status as a miracle cure to a hazardous gateway drug. Even though cannabis contains over 100 compounds, only studied THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are studied. Haney also quickly dispelled the myth that marijuana is not addictive, stating that 30 percent of users meet the DSM-V criteria for cannabis use disorder (CUD), and pharmacological treatments have not been promising on the whole.

Budney discussed his research on behavioral treatments for CUD, including contingency management (an incentive-based strategy) and using computer-assisted therapy to reduce cost of treatment. Budney shared the possibility of using other behavioral targets, such as treating the withdrawal symptom of sleep difficulty.

Focusing on the current obstacles and hurdles in conducting research on cannabis, Weerts did not speak about her research findings. Currently, researchers are required to seek circuitous approval from the FDA, NIDA, and the DEA to obtain research grade cannabis, and marijuana on the market for public consumption cannot be legally obtained for study. This causes delays, as well as not being able to directly research the cannabis actually used by the public. Her presentation concluded with policy recommendations to streamline the application process and to allow for meaningful research to be done on cannabis and its effects on both humans and non-human primates.

Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) spoke during the briefing, offering his stance as a physician who has conducted NIH research. Rep. Harris said that if marijuana has a medicinal use, then its effects need to be studied directly and known before being prescribed. Rep. Harris indicated his support of upcoming legislation facilitating medical marijuana research.

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