The most comprehensive research in more than a decade on marijuana confirmed many of its medicinal benefits, but researchers say federal red tape is preventing further study and creating a “public health risk.”
In the first study of its kind since 1999, a panel of 16 health experts from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine studied the health effects of marijuana over nine months, releasing 100 various conclusions on the substance.
While the study mirrors previous research efforts that show marijuana is undoubtedly effective as a pain reliever, the researchers’ most important conclusion was that much more extensive study is needed to truly understand the substance, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The researchers blasted the federal government for its continued prohibition of marijuana, which is deemed a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), on par with heroin.
“It’s ridiculous,” Steven Greenhut, Western Region director for the R Street Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Having it as a Schedule I drug makes it impossible to do the serious research needed to determine what the effects are so it can be a more effective medical tool.”
Marijuana’s designation as a Schedule I drug means federally approved and funded research is extremely difficult to attain. The researchers argue this designation is leaving medical professionals and the larger public in the dark on the repercussions of using the substance, something they charge is irresponsible given the wide availability of marijuana across the country.
Medical marijuana is legal in 28 states and Washington, D.C., where it is also legal for recreational use. Voters in Maine, Nevada, California and Massachusetts all approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use on Election Day.
“This lack of evidence-based information on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids poses a public health risk,” the researchers concluded in the report.
The report found marijuana could prove useful for treating muscle spasms, multiple sclerosis and certain mental health conditions. They note marijuana can spark early onset of schizophrenia in frequent youth users who are predisposed to the condition. The researchers also found marijuana use does not cause an increased risk of lung cancer.
Still, they stress their findings only show a relationship and much more study is needed to establish any concrete effects of marijuana use.
“We need to be able to do the research to understand the different uses of the drug,” Greenhut told TheDCNF. “I think it would help the medical marijuana industry become more serious and help provide relief appropriately to more people.”
It is unclear if the federal stance on marijuana may change under the administration of President-elect Donald Trump, but activists are concerned due to the appointment of GOP Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. Sessions is a staunch opponent of marijuana reform and some activists worry his appointment may lead to further raids in states where marijuana is legal.
During his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Sessions did little to clarify whether he will be adversarial to states with legalization laws that contradict the federal government’s stance.
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