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Dr. Matt Layton, a psychiatrist and researcher at Washington State University, studies alternatives to prescription opioids in pain management. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 15,000 Americans died from opioid usage in 2015. Dr. Layton is one of many researchers that wishes to find alternatives to opioid usage in order to manage pain. That way, we can find techniques for pain management that don’t rely on drugs that often cause fatal overdoses.
Dr. Layton, and many other researchers like him, are interested in the effect of medical marijuana in pain management. There is some data that shows that there are less opioid overdoses in states where medical marijuana is legal. However, the data doesn’t prove that legalizing medical marijuana causes fewer opioid overdoses, so there is still much research to be done.
Unfortunately, this research is very hard to get done due to federal regulations on the use of marijuana by scientists. One assistant professor at the Washington State University College of Nursing and researcher of chronic pain and addiction, Marian Wilson, said, “I’m not a proponent of using cannabis. I’m a proponent of science. So if it is a fact that it could help people better than opioids, why shouldn’t be know that?”
Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration. This is the same classification as drugs such as heroin, ecstasy, and LSD, despite the fact that marijuana is legal for medical use in 29 states and legal for recreational use in eight states. Marijuana is therefore classified as a drug that has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” This ignores the fact that the use of legal marijuana is not criminal, and can even help patients improve their health.
The DEA can reclassify these drugs without an act of Congress if they decide that they no longer meet the criteria of the classification level. Recently, governors petitioned the DEA to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug. They argued that marijuana has use for medical reasons. The DEA, however, denied the petition based on a recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services that marijuana “has no accepted medical use in the United States and lacks an acceptable level of safety for use even under medical supervision.” These federal rules make it difficult to researchers to look into marijuana. Failure to follow these rules could lead to loss of federal funding and stripping of a prescribing licence from a marijuana doctor.
A 2017 research review on the health effects of marijuana by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine stated that there is substantial evidence that marijuana is an effective treatment for chronic pain. However, there is barely any information about dosage or how to best administer the drug, which creates difficulties for a weed doctor.
A marijuana doctor, such as Dr. Layton, wants to know more about the side effects of marijuana, what compounds in marijuana work best for different types of pain, and what dosage should be given. However, due to federal regulations, it is difficult for researchers to begin to answer these questions.
This also causes problems for patients. Many patients are prescribed a medical marijuana card by a weed doctor, which is extremely important in that it allows a patient to obtain legal marijuana. However, their doctors don’t give them any recommendations on dosage or proper use. Patients can even get a medical marijuana card online, and therefore remain completely unregulated by their doctors.
Many researchers like Dr. Layton are attempting to research marijuana’s effects in humans. Layton wants to do human drug trials of marijuana for chronic pain treatment, but current regulations make this very difficult. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and therefore researchers are not able to easily purchase marijuana. They must first obtain a license from the DEA. They also must have a secure storage facility and keep a log of who checks out the drug. Further, the only way to obtain marijuana for research is from the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
However, some researchers have taken these additional steps and are currently researching medical marijuana. Rebecca Craft, a psychology professor on the Pullman campus, looks at the effect of marijuana and other drugs based on gender.
Currently, nine studies, including three clinical trials, are in process. These look at the effect of medical marijuana on various conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder and spinal pain.
Although these trials being performed are a step in the right direction, there is still much to be done. Federal regulations make becoming an approved researcher a long and difficult process. Dr. Layton hopes that in the near future, he can become one of the researchers who is able to do human studies of the effects of marijuana. Layton says, “We want to do real science.”
The research of Layton and other doctors will hopefully make it easier for patients to receive a medical marijuana card. This card will be crucial in order to receive legal marijuana so that a patient can treat illnesses and pain or feel overall more relaxed and pleased. All people should be able to get a medical marijuana card online in order to improve their health, reduce their pain, and increase their overall wellbeing.
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