As the movement to end marijuana prohibition continues to steamroll its way through the United States, a formerly bitter rival may be softening its stance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a government agency tasked with researching and combatting drug abuse, has offered a subtle change to the language on its page dedicated to marijuana.
On their website, drugabuse.gov, in the language under “How Might Cannabinoids Be Useful As Medicine,” they have noted:
“For instance, recent animal studies have shown that marijuana extracts may help kill certain cancer cells and reduce the size of others. Evidence from one cell culture study suggests that purified extracts from whole-plant marijuana can slow the growth of cancer cells from one of the most serious types of brain tumors. Research in mice showed that treatment with purified extracts of THC and CBD, when used with radiation, increased the cancer-killing effects of the radiation (Scott, 2014).”
Viewed on archive.org’s Wayback Machine, the agency’s former stance is much less positive. For example, a section visible last month titled “Misperceptions of Safety”—including a chart that the agency says “could indicate that use of marijuana could begin to rise again in future years” based on a poll of high schoolers’ views of marijuana—has been deleted.
Still, NIDA spokesperson Kathryn Kaplan says any changes to the fact sheet don’t necessarily reflect a policy shift.
“NIDA periodically updates its fact sheets to reflect the most current research. The excerpt you referenced was from a study that was published in 2014 and we found it to be relevant information that was worth including on a recent update. The study was funded by a research grant awarded to W.M. Liu from GW Pharmaceuticals Ltd., Salisbury, United Kingdom,” Kaplan wrote to The Daily Beast.
“This is not a shift in language or stance, but rather part of NIDA’s effort to provide the most up to date information and research to the public.”
Even so, any softening of approach to cannabis is notable in an agency with a director, Nora D. Volkow, MD, who has been outspoken on what she perceives to be the inherent dangers of cannabis, speaking out against it everywhere from dispatches on the NIDA site, published works in the National Academy of Sciences and New England Journal of Medicine, and even a feature in National Geographic.
Although the shift happened within the last couple of weeks, the exact date of the change is unclear.
The swap comes the same week as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute of Health placed an order for $69 million worth of legally cultivated weed from the University of Mississippi for analysis and research. Ole Miss has been the single official weed supplier to the United States government since 1968, and they are kicking up production to 30,000 cannabis plants both indoors and “on approximately 12 acres” outdoors. The contract mandates that the crop remain under tight video monitored security, and the finished product, “research grade cannabis,” would be “extracted” with research conducted on both the THC and CBD compounds.
They are also required to undergo the “manufacturing of cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Standards)-grade cannabis cigarettes.” This means that, right now, there may be scientists in a well lit room rolling joint after joint of high-grade government reefer, with the direct blessing of the federal government.
Last week, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart signed a proposal to increase federal marijuana cultivation amounts from its “previously established 2015 quota” of 275 pounds to 882 pounds, citing “that research and product development involving cannabidiol, is increasing beyond that previously anticipated.”
Basically, the feds have a supply-and-demand problem for their pot because of “ongoing and anticipated research efforts involving marijuana.” And they’re buying it all at a staggering rate—based on the $69 million in funding—of $78,231 a pound. Ironically, the current dispensary full retail rate for a pound of high-grade, lab-tested marijuana would be $6,400.
Twenty-three states have laws allowing the medical use of cannabis, with four states—Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Alaska—legalizing it completely, and 18 have decriminalized small amounts. More states are set to vote on legalization measures this year.
In January, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged lawmakers to reschedule pot as a less dangerous drug in order to make it more readily available for research purposes. Currently, it is classified Schedule 1 alongside LSD and Ecstasy by the DEA, which means it has “no currently accepted medical use in the United States.” This shift in language (or additional language, depending on your perspective) on the NIDA’s website seems to counter the DEA’s view of marijuana, and may herald a sea change in the way our government approaches pot.