Denver-based marijuana cultivator and researcher MedPharm finally got a green thumbs up from the Drug Enforcement Administration to begin researching medical marijuana for federally approved studies.
“We can now begin to participate at the federal level instead of being restricted to the state level," says Dr. Tyrell Towle, MedPharm’s director of extraction and chemistry. “The DEA was able to come to see the facility and everything we’re doing at the firm, and recognized that we’d be able to handle growing research on the federal side while keeping our state operations.”
MedPharm is already licensed at the city and state levels to grow medical marijuana for research purposes, but has been waiting since 2016 for federal approval — and the company isn't done yet. Although MedPharm is now approved to study marijuana for medical research purposes, the operation still can't use its own marijuana.
Marijuana researchers approved by the DEA are restricted to plants grown by DEA-approved manufacturers, which are still being processed for licensing. MedPharm is currently in the process of applying for a manufacturing license of its own, which will allow the company to purchase its own marijuana and study more advanced forms of cannabis extract, as opposed to just flower. NuVue Pharm, another Colorado candidate, is also currently in the running for a bulk manufacturing license, with an application pending with the DEA (and plans to apply for a research license), according to NuVue vice president Katharine Avery.
The University of Mississippi has been the lone marijuana supplier to researchers for decades, but Towle is clear that Ole Miss shouldn't expect a call from MedPharm as the firm waits on approval for a manufacturing license.
There are some catches when working with the feds on a Schedule I substance, as it turns out. The DEA can show up at any time for an inspection to ensure that federal regulations are being followed. License holders are also required to report to the agency regularly regarding security and safety measures at the facility, according to MedPharm.
"You hear horror stories of the feds, but the agent we've been working with has actually been very helpful, and really helped to guide us in the right direction," says MedPharm pharmacology and experimental therapeutics director Duncan Mackie.
The firm's scientific research proposal — a prerequisite for a DEA research license — plans to expand MedPharm's studies at the state level, which dive into marijuana's potential to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The method induces brain cells into an oxidative state (a state of stress that brain cells incur with Alzheimer’s disease) to see if and how cannabinoids can treat them. MedPharm was approved to study both phyto and synthetic cannabinoids, spurring more potential for future studies.
With a DEA license, federally approved cannabis manufacturers and researchers would be able to trade and transport bulk plants and possible medicinal treatments for clinical trials across the country to other licensees. Towle believes it's a groundbreaking promise that will carry the industry forward on a bigger scale while positioning MedPharm as an ideal partner for future cannabis researchers.
"This is huge, because now we can participate with anyone else who has a Schedule I research license, and [we] can work together on projects," Towle says.
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