One of the most consistent concerns raised by those against cannabis legalization is the potential for the increase of adolescent cannabis use. As states began to adopt medical and recreational cannabis laws of varying degrees, studies on the correlation between legalization and teen use have been prioritized—and recently, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) provided some intriguing commentary on the subject.
In a recent interview, NIDA Director Nora Volkow admitted that those in support of legalization were right all along regarding the effects that it would have on teen cannabis use. On Aug. 26, Volkow was a guest on Ethan Nadelmann’s podcast “Psychoactive,” a show dedicated to discussing all things drugs and drug policy.
Volkow stated that initially, she expected that the use of cannabis would go up among adolescents when states legalized cannabis, but “overall, it hasn’t.” She went on to state that it was actually reform advocates such as Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance, who held the most accurate predictions about the impact legalization would have on youth consumption rates.
Volkow demonstrated her support for the truth as she also referenced the potential therapeutic properties of different psychedelic substances, which have long been listed as prohibited and potentially dangerous substances per the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Throughout the interview, she strongly expressed her stance that science needs to evolve in a way in which it directly influences policies in a more health-focused rather than politics-driven manner.
Volkow hit the nail on the head. For decades, the United States federal government has consistently created extensive barriers to efficient research regarding cannabinoid therapies. In a catch 22 of sorts, policy drives research, but we need research that drives policy. As a result, policies are being fueled by political agendas rather than medical knowledge and research.
Further, valuable resources are being misallocated. While politicians and policymakers pass legislation that affects the type of substances citizens are allowed to consume and treat their bodies with, we are wasting resources criminating individuals with substance abuse issues rather than treating addiction as the health issue it is. While there are plenty of truly harmful and addictive substances prohibited per the CSA, cannabis is not one of them—and it’s high time we reprioritize as a society.
Luckily, times are changing, and laws surrounding natural and holistic remedies such as cannabis and psilocybin are being revisited. Some states are addressing much of the damage caused by heavily criminalizing substances by providing avenues outside of the criminal justice system for reform and rehabilitation. A shining example of this is laws passed in recent years in the states of Colorado and Oregon allowing for the possession of small amounts of psilocybin and, in the case of Oregon, all illicit substances.
While many believe that the NIDA is a policy-making agency, this is not true. According to the NIDA website,
“NIDA’s role is to conduct and support scientific research on drugs and drug abuse and to advise the public and policy-makers, such as Congress, the White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on the results of that research—with the goal of ensuring that the nation’s drug policies are informed by science.”
As Volkow stated in Nadelmann’s podcast, “Understanding what policies basically protect from negative effects and may actually lead to better outcomes is crucial, and we’re [NIDA] funding it!”
In regard to the criminalization of individuals with substance abuse issues, Volkow hopes that “science will serve to change policies and reduce the stigma around addiction and basically change the notion of criminalizing people to that of treating and helping people and preventing them from relapsing.”
Despite cannabis remaining a Schedule I substance per the CSA, NIDA has recognized that THC and other cannabinoids present in cannabis offer potential use in the treatment of various conditions, including nausea, pain, obesity, addiction, autoimmune disorders, and epilepsy. As part of its mandate to study addiction, drug abuse, and other health effects of both legalized and illicit drugs, NIDA currently provides funding for a wide variety of cannabis-based research.
Some of the areas currently being researched through the funding of NIDA include:
As more respected federal officials like Volkow speak out regarding the changes that need to take place, we may get to see the reform of some of the country’s outdated systems. For now, it’s refreshing to see a government official acknowledging real problems and proposing real solutions.
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