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NIDA's Role in Providing Marijuana for Research

Revised March 2015

Under the 1961 international Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (PDF, 680KB) (amended in 1972), cannabis is designated a Schedule I substance, and participating countries are required to restrict cultivation, possession and sale except for what is needed for research purposes. The DEA regulates the cultivation of marijuana for research purposes through licensing requirements and establishing annual aggregate production quotas under the authority of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which implements the Single Convention. To date, the DEA has only issued a single license for the cultivation of marijuana for research to the University of Mississippi which is funded through a NIDA contract. Questions on the authority to issue additional licenses would have to be addressed to the DEA.

NIDA contracts with the University of Mississippi to grow marijuana for use in research studies. The contract was renewed in 2015 under an open solicitation process. The University designates a secure plot of land where marijuana crops are grown every few years, depending on demand. The marijuana is grown, harvested, stored, and made into cigarettes or other purified elements of marijuana to use for research.  For more information on the most recent marijuana farm contract see: Information on marijuana farm contract.

To obtain research-grade marijuana through the NIDA drug supply program, all applicants must fulfill the following three requirements:

  1. Demonstrate scientific validity and ethical soundness through either:
    • For NIH-funded projects - through NIH review, consisting of three steps: (1) the NIH peer review system, which assesses the scientific and technical merit of all grant applications; (2) the Institute’s National Advisory Council, comprising eminent scientists as well as public members from the community; and (3) the Institute Director, who makes the final decision on the merit of an application for funding, based on peer review, public health significance, and Institute priorities. To find studies approved through this NIH review process, go to http://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm (you should use the search terms “marijuana,” “cannabis,” and “cannabinoid”).

    • For studies not funded by NIH  - through a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) scientific review panel, which consists of experts from across HHS with backgrounds relevant to the research being proposed.  The final decision as to whether or not to approve a proposal is based on the consensus of the experts on the review committee. To date, 18 applications to obtain marijuana for medical research have been submitted by potential researchers not funded by NIH; of those, 16 received approval to obtain research-grade marijuana from NIH. (Independently Funded Studies Receiving Research Grade Marijuana - 1999 to present)
  2. An IND application on file with the FDA (for human research only); and
  3. A DEA registration for a Schedule I controlled substance.

When the above steps have been completed, investigators then contact the NIDA Drug Supply Program to place an order for marijuana with specific THC concentrations. The program official verifies that the application is complete (with all the above-mentioned steps fulfilled), and forwards the order on to the contractor responsible for shipping the marijuana.

This page was last updated March 2015

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