NIDA Director Notes Therapeutic Value of Cannabidiol Without Backing Drug’s Approval

By John Lavitt 08/17/15

Dr. Nora Volkow's statement came during testimony before a Senate caucus in June.


As the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Dr. Nora Volkow recently adopted the stance that cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid, is “a safe drug with no addictive effects.”

In testimony last June before the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, Dr. Volkow highlighted the potential therapeutic effects of CBD, stating that “preliminary data suggest that it may have therapeutic value for a number of medical conditions.”

Preclinical studies have documented CBD to possess a variety of therapeutic activities, including anti-cancer properties, anti-diabetic properties, and bone-stimulating activity. Clinical and observational trials have documented the substance to possess anxiolytic, anti-psychotic, and anti-seizure activity in humans. Safety trials have further concluded the substance to be safe when administered to healthy subjects.

Despite admitting the value and safety of the drug, Dr. Volkow was not prepared to endorse its legalization. “There is significant preliminary research supporting the potential therapeutic value of CBD, and while it is not yet sufficient to support drug approval, it highlights the need for rigorous clinical research in this area,” she said.

At the moment, 15 states have enacted laws specifically permitting the possession of high-CBD formulated extracts for therapeutic purposes, primarily for the treatment of pediatric epilepsy. Under federal law, CBD is still defined as a Schedule I drug with “a high potential for abuse ... [with] no currently accepted medical use."

In a recent TIME op-ed, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) encouraged the Obama administration to “definitively determine if CBD has scientific and medical benefits,” and to promote efforts “at expanding compassionate access programs where possible, to benefit as many children as possible."

The question for the future is whether the therapeutic values of CBD can be removed from the overall cannabis legalization debate. This and many other issues have yet to be addressed by the federal government, even though numerous states have been taking matters into their own hands for years.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.