Healio Special Report: Health Care and Politics
Healio Special Report: Health Care and Politics
January 15, 2020
4 min read

FDA, NIDA call for marijuana legislation to advance public health

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Leaders from the FDA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse said during a recent House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing that there is a pressing need for federal laws that allow more research into marijuana, including research investigating the effects of different amounts of THC.

There are currently at least six bills in the U.S. House that have components that would decriminalize marijuana, remove it from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedule I list of agents — which are classified as agents that have a high potential for abuse and no currently acceptable medical use — or ease restrictions on research surrounding the substance.

Hearing highlights

Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of NIDA, said at the hearing that marijuana research is “urgently needed” to eliminate the substance’s medical unknowns, guide policies and develop therapies, but marijuana’s current Schedule I status keeps many of those research efforts at bay.

Source: Governing.com

“There are certain scientists who don’t study marijuana because they feel it is going to take too much effort to do scalable research,” she said. “Thus, we lose potentially valuable scientists that could be looking into things that are important.”

She added that the gap in research is “clearly evident” as agencies investigate the recent lung injuries tied to THC-related vaping.

The FDA’s deputy director for regulatory programs, Douglas Throckmorton, MD, said that marijuana’s Schedule I status also hinders the FDA’s mission of protecting public health. Despite being on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Schedule I list, 33 states and Washington, D.C., have passed legislation allowing medical and/or recreational marijuana use, according to Governing.com.

“We don’t know if the various claims [by the manufacturers of CBD-containing products] are accurate,” he said. “We don’t know well enough what is in those products that are being sold under a variety of state initiatives. We need more data in both of those places.”

Throckmorton and Volkow said that they were not in favor of a specific bill that would legalize marijuana. Instead, they support legislation that advances the research surrounding it.

“We need to think of such research’s goals,” Throckmorton said. “The outcome needs to keep in mind the need for continued drug development and appropriate scientific study.”

Volkow discussed some of NIDA’s research goals surrounding marijuana.

“What we would like to be able to do from a research perspective is to create a unit called ‘Marijuana,’” she said. “This unit would be utilized consistently across research to help us understand how exposure to different amounts of THC impact people ... and allow us to come up with a standard marijuana dose for research purposes.”


During the hearing, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy, D-Mass., expressed disappointment that no one testified how marijuana has impacted their physical and mental well-being. In response, committee chair, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., said that future hearings would include those stakeholders.

‘Potentially profound impact

Brooke Worster MD, an associate professor of internal medicine and palliative care at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, who did not attend the hearing, told Healio Primary Care, that the impact of legalizing marijuana on public health nationwide would be “potentially profound.”

Medical Marijuana 
Leaders from the FDA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse said during a recent House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing that there is a pressing need for federal laws that allow more research into marijuana, including research investigating the effects of different amounts of THC. Photo source: Adobe

“Rescheduling marijuana would permit large-scale research efforts to take place to examine effects, complications, safe dosing and outcomes on a large scale,” she said.

This could come with some consequences, she continued.

“We know that states with legal recreational marijuana have seen increases in marijuana-related traffic accidents as well as additive effects of cognitive impairment on vulnerable populations such as youth and those with known mental illness,” Worster said. “Without any federal push to study marijuana, including opening NIH funding to do so, will potentially highlight risks without being able to realize the multitudes of benefits that likely exist medically.” – by Janel Miller

For more information on the proposed marijuana legislation :

Congress. H.R. 171. "Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marihuana Act" or the "LUMMA." https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/171/all-info. Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.

Congress. H.R. 601. "Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2019." https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/601/all-info. Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.

Congress. H.R. 1151. "Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act." https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1151/all-info. Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.

Congress. H.R. 2843. "Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act.” "https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/2843/all-info. Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.

Congress. H.R. 3797. “"Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019.” https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/3797/all-info. Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.

Congress. H.R. 3884. “"Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019" or the "MORE Act of 2019." https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/3884/all-info. Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.


Governing.com. State marijuana laws in 2019 map. https://www.governing.com/gov-data/safety-justice/state-marijuana-laws-map-medical-recreational.html. Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.

House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Hearing on cannabis policies for the new decade. https://energycommerce.house.gov/committee-activity/hearings/hearing-on-cannabis-policies-for-the-new-decade. Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.

Disclosures: Throckmorton works for the FDA, Volkow works for NIDA.