For neuroscientist Chuanhai Cao, the problem with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug can be summed up in two words: dead mice.
Cao, a researcher at the University of South Florida’s Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, uses transgenic mice to study the effect of the marijuana component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on amyloid beta, the protein that forms the plaque found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Timing is critical in his work—the mice, which are difficult to breed, have to be a specific age at the time of an experiment. One Cao project, designed for 12-month-old mice, was delayed three months while the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) processed the complicated paperwork that all marijuana researchers must submit under the current system. Some of the mice died while Cao waited for the approvals he needed to acquire the THC for the experiment; he ended up with too few animals that were all too old to generate useful data.