In a surprising move, the feds have approved a University of Arizona study of medical marijuana for treating veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since marijuana is still federally classified as a Schedule I controlled substance—a "dangerous drug" with "no accepted medical use"—medical research on marijuana in America is generally illegal.
This is one of just two times the federal government has approved clinical trials involving medical marijuana in the past decade. A March 12, 2014, letter from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cleared the study's funder, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), to buy medical marijuana from the one federally-sanctioned research farm in the U.S.
"MAPS has been working for over 22 years to start marijuana drug development research, and this is the first time we've been granted permission to purchase marijuana from NIDA," the group said in a statement. The study must still be approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), but MAPS says its "optimistic" the DEA will approve the study in a timely manner.
The HHS decision "surprised marijuana advocates who have struggled for decades to secure federal approval for research into the drug's medical uses," Associated Press reports. Researchers, advocates, and general folks for sensible drug policy hope it's a signal that federal attitudes toward drug research are starting to shift.
So far, it's been a good month all around for drug research. In early March, The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease published results from the first study in four decades to examine LSD's therapeutic potential in humans.