American drug policy has changed drastically in the past decade. There are 37 states that now give patients access to medical cannabis. Psilocybin mushrooms, a once-maligned psychedelic, is now decriminalized in multiple jurisdictions and legalized for therapeutic use in Oregon.
Yet, despite these advancements, cannabis, psilocybin, and other plants with potential medical uses are still classified as Schedule 1 substances. This presents a huge problem for researchers, as conducting quality studies on Schedule 1 substances is incredibly difficult with multiple logistical hurdles to clear.
Why Scientists are Interested
By definition, when a drug is classified as a Schedule 1 substance, it means that it has no medicinal value. However, many patients, doctors, and medical researchers disagree with labeling drugs like cannabis and psilocybin as Schedule 1. Anecdotal studies and scientific research point to numerous potential benefits.
Studying Schedule 1 drugs isn’t illegal. However, the process is too onerous and expensive for most researchers.
First, the potential study needs to be reviewed by an institutional review board (IRB). If the research team succeeds at this step, they then need to apply for a Schedule 1 license with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This can take years. Even so, success is unlikely.
If the license is granted, the ordeal still isn’t over. The DEA will perform surprise lab audits to ensure that the drugs are being stored properly.
“Even experienced researchers have reported that obtaining a new Schedule I registration, adding new substances to an existing registration, or getting approval for research protocol changes is time consuming,” Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, testified in 2021. “Researchers have reported that sometimes these challenges impact Schedule I research and deter or prevent scientists from pursuing this critical work.”
The long, complicated process isn’t the only problem with studying Schedule 1 drugs. It’s also difficult to procure funding. Institutions are often hesitant to attach their names to “illicit” substances.
The same stigmas may keep researchers away from these studies as well. These problems are likely to continue without direct action by the federal government.
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