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MAPS Bulletin Summer 2014: Research Edition
 
Media > Recent and Archival
February 1, 2013

Rick Doblin Responds to Former DEA Administrator About Marijuana Research

By: Rick Doblin

Cannabration

MAPS Founder & Executive Director Rick Doblin responds to former DEA administrator Robert Bonner’s claims that “not a single scientifically valid study by a qualified researcher has ever been denied by the DEA or, for that matter, by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.”


Originally appearing here.

Dear Mr. Robert Bonner,

Hello from Rick Doblin, Ph.D.,(Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, with my dissertation on the regulation of the medical uses of psychedelics and marijuana).  I’m currently Executive Director of the non-profit research and educational organization, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS, http://www.maps.org), which I founded in 1986.  You may be surprised to learn that for the last 20+ years, I have been inspired by, and frequently quote, your 1992 statement that you mention in your article above in which you encouraged advocates of medical marijuana to conduct more research. 

In 1992, you wrote,

I have put my full energies for the last 20+ years into trying to conduct FDA-approved medical marijuana drug development research. Unfortunately, my experience, to which I hope you will give some credence, is exactly opposite of the open door to research that you claim exists. MAPS has obtained FDA and IRB approval for three different protocols to which NIDA refused to sell any marijuana, preventing the studies from taking place. In addition, NIDA refused for 7 years to sell MAPS 10 grams (!!) of marijuana for laboratory research investigating the vapors that come out of the Volcano vaporizer, compared to smoke from combusted marijuana.

Furthermore, MAPS has been involved for the last decade in litigation against DEA for refusing to license Prof. Craker, UMass Amherst, to grow marijuana exclusively for use in federally regulated research. In 2007, DEA Administrative Law Judge Bittner recommended, after extensive hearings with witness testimony, that it would be in the public interest for DEA to license Prof. Craker to grow marijuana under contract to MAPS, ending the NIDA monopoly on the supply of marijuana legal for use in FDA-regulated studies. DEA waited for almost two years and then rejected the ALJ recommendation just six days before the inauguration of Pres. Obama. On May 11, 2012, oral arguments took place before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in a lawsuit by Prof. Craker challenging DEA's rationale for rejecting the DEA ALJ recommendation. A ruling is currently pending from the 1st Circuit. From my perspective, DEA's rationale for rejecting the DEA ALJ recommendation is arbitrary and capricious, but of course what matters is what the 1st Circuit will eventually decide.

In your article above, you claimed,   The wiggle room in your statement above is the definition of “scientifically valid study”.  One would think that for a privately funded study being conducted without a penny of government money, with the aim of developing marijuana into an FDA-approved prescription medicine, that the FDA would be the regulatory agency to determine whether the study was “scientifically valid” and that Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval would be sufficient to protect the safety of the human volunteers to the study. However, in 1999, HHS created a policy (which could be reversed by Pres. Obama at any time without Congressional action) stating that PHS/NIDA reviewers would have to conduct an additional review of protocols from privately-funded sponsors seeking to purchase!

marijuana from NIDA.  This additional PHS/NIDA protocol review process exists only for marijuana, not for research with any other controlled substance. MAPS has been able to make substantial progress with our research exploring the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in subjects with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD, including a current study in 24 US veterans, firefighters and perhaps even police officers with work-related PTSD.

It is these PHS/NIDA reviewers who have rejected all three of MAPS’ FDA and IRB approved medical marijuana drug development protocols, preventing them from taking place.  You can claim that the rejection of the these protocols was because they were not “scientifically valid”.  However, to make that claim, you would be saying that FDA and IRBs have approved studies that are not “scientifically valid”,  an accusation against the FDA that I doubt you really want to make.

MAPS currently has obtained FDA and IRB approval for a study of marijuana in 50 US veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. Dr. Sue Sisley of UArizona is the PI and approval has been obtained from the UArizona IRB as well as the FDA. Research into a potentially beneficial     treatment for US veterans is being blocked by PHS/NIDA reviewers who rejected this protocol.  These PHS/NIDA reviewers approached the protocol review as if we were asking for a government grant for a basic science study. Instead, we were seeking to purchase marijuana from NIDA for a privately-funded drug development study. The PHS/NIDA reviewers made numerous incorrect and uninformed comments and clearly didn’t understand drug development research. One reviewer objected to our outcome measures when we are using the FDA-required measure of PTSD symptoms, the CAPS. If you or any readers want to review our protocol along with the PHS/NIDA reviewers’ comments and my annotated response, the documents are posted at:  http://www.maps.org/research/mmj/marijuana_for_ptsd_study/

The compete record of Prof. Craker’s DEA lawsuit is posted at: http://www.maps.org/research/mmj/dea_timeline/

MAPS will soon be resubmitting our marijuana/PTSD protocol for another round of PHS/NIDA review, even though we think this review should be eliminated from the process. All FDA/IRB and DEA approved protocols should automatically be allowed to purchase marijuana from NIDA.

To summarize, you have been an inspiration to me and have motivated me to devote several decades of my life to seek approval for medical marijuana drug development research. My failure to make progress in overcoming the obstruction of medical marijuana research by DEA/NIDA/PHS provides one of the clearest reasons for state level medical marijuana policy reform.

My conclusion is opposite of yours, when you said, “One can only conclude the marijuana proponents did not go this route because doing so would have shown that cannabis is not an effective and safe medicine.”

Rather, one can only conclude that privately-funded medical marijuana drug development research is being aggressively and actively obstructed by DEA/NIDA/PHS because they know it can be scientifically proven that marijuana, smoked or vaporized, is both safe and effective.

The heros in all of this in my eyes are the FDA.  It’s not because FDA is pro-medical marijuana, or pro-psychedelic psychotherapy. Rather, FDA is pro science over politics. In other words, FDA are heroes simply for doing their jobs. If only DEA/NIDA/PHS considered the public interest over     their increasingly out of touch passion for blocking FDA-regulated medical marijuana drug development research.

I urge you to reread your 1992 statement and join MAPS in asking for the end of the PHS protocol review process and for a new policy in which all FDA/IRB/DEA approved protocols automatically obtain approval to purchase NIDA marijuana. In addition, I sincerely hope you will also support DEA licensing of Prof. Craker.  It’s time to “serve society better by promoting or sponsoring more legitimate scientific research.”

Sincerely,

Rick Doblin, Ph.D.


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