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This month, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) completed its review of several petitions to remove marijuana from Schedule I.  Based on this review which included recommendations from the FDA, the DEA decided to keep marijuana as a “Schedule I substance,” continuing to categorize it in the same classification as heroin and LSD, and maintaining it has:

“high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”

Despite the Schedule I categorization, 25 states currently allow the use of medical marijuana. In a recent survey of our community, more than a third indicated they use marijuana as part of their treatment.

Why is there such a disconnect between the DEA (government) position and almost half of the United States?

One of the main reasons for the DEA position is the lack of scientific evidence on efficacy and safety. Their report notes:

in the HHS evaluation, the drug’s chemistry is not known and reproducible; there are no adequate safety studies; there are no adequate and well- controlled studies proving efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts; and the scientific evidence is not widely available.”

While the DEA cites that lack of controlled studies as a prime reason for keeping marijuana as a Schedule I substance, some academic researchers say the agency’s policies inhibit conducting studies. Scientist have complained that the DEA and NIDA requirements for working with marijuana are a barrier to conducting more studies with marijuana.

SEE ALSOTop 5: Need to Know About Medical Marijuana & Colorectal Cancer

There is currently only one facility, at the University of Mississippi, permitted by NIDA to cultivate marijuana for use in research. NIDA manages access to all of the marijuana from that facility and has been accused of only approving research grants that focus on the negative effects of marijuana. 

To make marijuana more available for additional research, the DEA will expand the number of sites allowed to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. The new facilities will be managed by the DEA, and the agency indicates that the number of researchers registered to study marijuana and its components has doubled in the past two years. It is hoped this will lead to more research of medical uses for marijuana. 

Marijuana is neither the hallucinogenic evil portrayed in the 1936 classic Reefer Madness, nor is it the  panacea some of its dedicated advocates claim. If it is to be used in the treatment (management of side effects) of colorectal cancer and other conditions, it must be subjected to the same scientific rigor as any other treatment approved by the FDA. We need scientists to conduct clinical trial studies to determine both efficacy and safety – the DEA and the Schedule I determination should not be a barrier to scientific inquiry and the federal government must fulfill its role in protecting patient safety. 

If you would like to read the full DEA report, it is available here on the Federal Register

So what is your view on the DEA report and use of medical marijuana for colorectal cancer? As always, we encourage you to Speak Up and Speak Out.


This month's Speak Up, Speak Out blog was co-authored by Dr. Laura Porter, stage IV colon cancer survivor and Colon Cancer Alliance Patient Advocate Medical Consultant. Dr. Laura is also the primary author and leading expert on the Colon Cancer Alliance's breakthrough series, Into the Weeds: What You Need to Know about Medical Marijuana & CRC.

Speak Up, Speak Out is an advocacy series where we bring you the information you need to know every third Tuesday of the month. Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030.


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