The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—launched a few years after President Nixon declared war on drugs—is known for its historic impediments to cannabis research and dissemination of anti-cannabis propaganda. Are the times a-changin'? It's hard to believe, but maybe.
First, consider the controversy. NIDA holds a "marijuana monopoly" on plant matter for clinical studies, and it approves far more research into potential harm than therapeutic value. Likewise, it funds questionable research like this 2000 study on squirrel monkeys that concluded "marijuana has as much potential for abuse as other drugs of abuse, such as cocaine and heroin." To quote one doctor who issued a critique, "This particular study is important in that it shows how strongly the sponsor of a scientific study affects the conclusions drawn from the work… [and how researchers] apparently embellished the report to satisfy NIDA official policy. This bias is shown from the first sentence… which reads: 'Marijuana is among the most abused illicit drugs in the world.'"
NIDA took its first step toward truth in 2015 when its DrugFacts page "Is Marijuana Medicine?" quietly acknowledged that whole-plant cannabis extracts may help kill and/or reduce certain cancer cells. This addition sparked controversy because other federal agencies continue to insist that cannabis has no medical value at all.
Guess what? The NIDA "Marijuana as Medicine" page just got updated again, and the changes are profound.
For starters, did you catch the title change? "Is Marijuana Medicine?" is now "Marijuana as Medicine." So fuck you, Jeff Sessions.
The updated page seems to throw shade at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) saying it "has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine," but NIDA does: "The marijuana plant contains chemicals that may help treat a range of illnesses and symptoms." The page goes on to suggest "medical marijuana legalization might be associated with decreased prescription opioid use and overdose deaths," per a NIDA-funded study no less, and "data suggests that medical marijuana treatment may reduce the opioid dose prescribed for pain patients, and a recent study showed that availability of medical marijuana for Medicare patients reduced prescribing of medications, including opioids, for their pain."
So, yeah, it reduces entitlement spending as well.
Does the NIDA update stop there? No, it was actually just getting started.
"There is growing interest in the marijuana chemical cannabidiol (CBD) to treat certain conditions such as childhood epilepsy, a disorder that causes a child to have violent seizures," says the page, which adds that CBD oils "aren't intoxicating."
At this point, NIDA goes buckwild: "THC can increase appetite and reduce nausea. THC may also decrease pain, inflammation (swelling and redness), and muscle control problems. Unlike THC, CBD is a cannabinoid that doesn't make people 'high.' It may be useful in reducing pain and inflammation, controlling epileptic seizures, and possibly even treating mental illness and addictions. Many researchers, including those funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are continuing to explore the possible uses of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids for medical treatment."
NIDA then reiterates the potential for cannabis to kill certain types of cancer cells and then lists disorders that have the most potential as a medical-cannabis target, which include HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis (MS), seizures, pain, inflammation, mental health disorders and even substance use disorders.
Prohibition ain't over till it's over, but NIDA chief Dr. Nora Volkow and her staff deserve credit for being one of the first federal agencies to warm up to the medical value of cannabis. To everyone else (especially the FDA and DEA), it's time to follow their lead.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.