Drug Prohibition Stifles Medical, Scientific Advances, Researchers Find

Prohibition of psychoactive drugs is preventing crucial scientific research, three scientists argue in a new neuroscience journal paper. The scientists — two former UK drug officials and an American professor with expertise in psychiatry, chemistry, and pharmacology – call for both national and international bodies to lift drug access restrictions, at least when it comes to research.

“The decision to outlaw these drugs was based on their perceived dangers, but in many cases the harms have been overstated,” neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt said in a statement accompanying the paper. “If we adopted a more rational approach to drug regulation, it would empower researchers to make advances in the study of consciousness and brain mechanisms of psychosis, and could lead to major treatment innovations in areas such as depression and PTSD.”

A theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, John H. Schwarz, has lobbed similar criticisms in the past, pointing out that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse act as a “tag team” to censor science on marijuana.

Under U.S. federal law, marijuana and some other psychoactive drugs are designated as “Schedule I” controlled substances, meaning they are considered dangerous substances with no currently accepted medical value. This designation not only severely limits government funding for research on these drugs’ potential medical uses; it also means the government controls access to a legal supply of these drugs for research. The panel that controls this access has declined to provide marijuana for a proposed triple-blind study to investigate the impact of marijuana on post-traumatic research disorder. The Drug Enforcement Administration, meanwhile, has declined to reconsider marijuana’s designation as a Schedule I drug on the justification that there is not enough rigorous scientific research on its benefits.

Schwarz laments that the very agencies that control drug control research — NIDA and the DEA — exist for the purpose of opposing drugs. If all research were run like marijuana research, he reasons, creationists would be running paleontology. Nutt, whose own research proposal on the impact of a psilocybin mushroom component on depression was blocked by the British government, made similar comments in a statement accompanying his paper, analogizing drug laws to “the worst case of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Copernicus and Galileo.”

In spite of research obstacles, preliminary studies and anecdotal evidence suggest marijuana may relieve not just PTSD, but Crohn’s disease, cancer, and diabetes, which is probably why 76 percent of U.S. doctors said in a recent survey they would prescribe medical marijuana to their patients.