Medical Research

Barriers to CBD Research

Written by Asia Mayfield

The strict regulations girding cannabis research are finally becoming undone. Clinical evidence has demonstrated that CBD is a highly effective treatment for certain illnesses, particularly drug-resistant epileptic syndromes1. However, clinical researchhas been severely limited in the types of studies that they been allowed to conduct.

Instead of recognizing CBD as a potential medication, the federal government’s position has been to demonize it. Cannabis is controlled as a Schedule I drug. It is still possible to conduct research on Schedule I substances, but the hurdles involved are so complex that many businesses cannot dedicate the resources necessary to make the research possible.

Researchers who want to study CBD, or conduct clinical trials with it, are required to register with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), a time-consuming and tedious process. There’s currently only one legal source of research-grade cannabis, and that is the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). And all the cannabis sourced by NIDA comes from a single cultivation facility at the University of Mississippi. The DEA claimed in 2016 that it was going to expand the number of suppliers of cannabis meant for research purposes, but so far that hasn’t been the case.

The cannabis produced by NIDA lacks the variety and quality of cultivars that consumers find insidetheir state-licensed dispensaries. Cultivars grown by NIDA do not exceed 8% THC content, and the lack of suppliers create supply and demand problems as well.

Medical patients with access to a legalized market are left in an awkward position. They know that CBD might be beneficial, but there’s very little clear, verifiable guidance on dosage, amounts, or frequency of use for treating different ailments. Is it better for consumers to choose pure CBD for medicinal purposes? Would a CBD/THC mix be more effective? At what ratio? No one really knows because enough clinical studies have not been done.

However, the tide is turning. Twenty-eight states have now legalized recreational or medical cannabis. A sizable portion of Congress is fighting to have cannabis’ the Schedule I designation removed. “I have not been a supporter of recreational marijuana use,” Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) said in 2015, “but I do believe that we have a responsibility to determine if cannabidiol… could have a positive long-term medical benefit, and we should also explore the ways to allow compassionate access while simultaneously pursuing a medically sound path forward.” (1)

“Encouraging responsible research on CBD is a goal I think we all share, and I expect we’ll talk more about these regulations today,” Sen. Chuck Grassley said at a 2015 Senate Caucus hearing (2). “At the same time, it’s also worth recognizing that research on CBD is proceeding, even under the current regulations.”

A lot of powerful people are working to ease the restrictions surrounding research into CBD. Write the elected officials in your state to encourage even more leaders to do so too.


  1. Stockings et al. Evidence for cannabis and cannabinoids for epilepsy: a systematic review of controlled and observational evidence. Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 2018;89:741-753. doi:10.1136/jnnp-2017-317168.

About the author

Asia Mayfield

Asia Mayfield is a freelance writer who focuses on the cannabis industry. She can be reached at