After months of considering it, the federal government still says marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug. That classification makes it more dangerous in the government’s eyes than methamphetamine or cocaine.
A Schedule 1 drug is classified as having no known medical benefits and a high potential for abuse.
In a much-anticipated decision, Thursday the Drug Enforcement Administration left marijuana as Schedule 1, but opened up small opportunities for more research.
Doctors and researchers in Colorado, where marijuana is legal, say they are still very limited.
The biggest limitation being there is not enough “pharmaceutical grade” marijuana approved to study.
The federal government gives that approval, and the plants must be identical and have identical levels of THC and other components to create an accurate study, says Dr. Amy Brooks-Kayal.
Brooks-Kayal is the head of pediatric neurology at Children’s Hospital Colorado, just outside of Denver.
Children’s Hospital Colorado is doing limited studies on the effects of marijuana products in children with epilepsy, for example.
Since marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, Brooks-Kayal cannot prescribe it.
Her studies are “observation only” meaning parents who want to use marijuana products must obtain it themselves and report back the efficacy.
Brooks-Kayal says reclassifying or rescheduling the drug would have made it easier for scientists to research its medical benefits or risks.
“It’s really important for the entire medical community to establish if marijuana products are effective,” Brooks-Kayal said. “If so, for whom are they effective? How are they best utilized and at what dose?”
There is only one approved manufacturer of marijuana for study in the country, at the University of Mississippi.
Brooks-Kayla says having only that one site to produce all the marijuana for study throughout the U.S. creates a major bottle neck.
So far, Children’s Hospital Colorado has not received any to study.
Even if they did, Brooks-Kayal says it would be very cumbersome.
As a Schedule 1 drug it would have be kept in a safe under lock and key, along with many other security and control measures.
Many families swear by medicinal marijuana.
Penn and Nicole Mattison moved to Colorado from Tennessee so their daughter Millie could begin taking cannabinoid (CBD) oil for her uncontrollable seizures.
After years of constant hospital visits, the Mattisons said in April their trips to the emergency room rarely happen anymore, something pharmaceutical drugs couldn’t accomplish.
Dr. Brooks-Kayal says the CBD oil and other products families use for their children can’t be considered for official medical studies because they are artisanal products and don’t have a consistent enough makeup for a controlled study.
The DEA did approve the expansion of federally-approved marijuana manufacture sites, beyond the University of Mississippi, which could expand the research done into the potential medical uses.
“Having additional access to the research should accelerate that,” Brooks-Kayal said. “So we’ll have the information we need that may allow the DEA to make a determination about a change in scheduling.”
Despite it still being federally outlawed, 25 states have approved medical marijuana in some form.