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Scientific community stymied by lack of research-grade cannabis available to advance research on harmful and therapeutic effects
WASHINGTON – The American Psychological Association has asked the U.S. attorney general to act immediately to evaluate the more than two dozen cannabis grower applications that have been languishing for more than two years at the Department of Justice, noting that the scientific community is eager to advance the research on both the harmful and therapeutic effects of cannabis and its derivatives.

“Psychologists are interested in studying a wide range of scientific questions that require a broader supply of cannabis products, including how the route of administration and potency influences abuse-liability, risk for cannabis use disorder, cognitive impairments, risk for psychosis and motor vehicle impairment, as well as the potential therapeutic indications for cannabis derivatives,” APA said in a letter to Attorney General William P. Barr. “Without access to an expanded range of cannabis products engineered under FDA-approved Good Manufacturing Practices, scientific research cannot hope to keep pace with the ever expanding recreational and medicinal cannabis marketplace.”

Cannabis and its constituent compounds are of significant interest to psychological scientists, both to those interested in use, abuse and dependence, as well as to those interested in the therapeutic potential of cannabis derivatives to treat a variety of health conditions. Many prominent psychologists participated in a 2016 summit convened by the National Institutes of Health, which focused on the neurological and psychiatric effects of cannabis, other cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system. The goal of the summit was to ensure evidence-based information is available to inform practice and policy, particularly important given the rapidly shifting landscape regarding the recreational and medicinal use of cannabis.

APA noted that the Drug Enforcement Administration created a formal application procedure for cannabis growers in August 2016, to meet the increased demand for research-grade cannabis. Since then, the DEA has received 26 such applications but has not acted on them, despite bipartisan letters from House and Senate members to the previous attorney general.

“We urge you to take immediate action on the existing pool of cannabis grower applications so that the United States scientific community can continue to expand the study of both the harmful and potential therapeutic effects of cannabis and its derivatives,” said the letter, signed by APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD.

The association cited several reports, from the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, noting the need to remove barriers to advancing cannabis research.

“The need for an expansion of cannabinoid research on many fronts is clear, but research with botanical cannabis and its derivatives is costly, cumbersome and limited by a sole source supply from NIDA’s Drug Supply Program,” Evans wrote. “While NIDA provides a staple catalog of cannabis products and derivatives for research, it cannot keep pace (nor should it be expected to) with the range of products available to consumers in the 10 states that have approved recreational cannabis use or the 34 states distributing cannabis products through medical dispensaries.”

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA’s membership includes nearly 118,400 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.

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