FDA issues draft guidance on clinical research of cannabis and cannabis-related products – Newsletters

Source of cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds
Quality considerations
Calculation of THC levels
Industry impact


On 21 July 2020 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its draft guidance on clinical research for the development of drugs that contain cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds of botanical origin (as opposed to synthetic) entitled “Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Compounds: Quality Considerations for Clinical Research, Draft Guidance for Industry“. The guidance provides some clarity on the use of cannabis in clinical research in light of the changes made by the Agriculture Improvement Act 2018 (Public Law 115-334 (the Farm Bill)), which federally legalised hemp and derivatives that contain no more than 0.3% by dry weight of THC. Specifically, this draft guidance outlines the FDA’s current thinking on:

  • the source of cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds for clinical research;
  • quality considerations for developing drugs that contain cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds; and
  • how to calculate the THC percentage in botanical raw materials, extracts and finished products.

Source of cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds

The draft guidance lists the two sources of cannabis for clinical research:

  • the federally authorised marijuana manufacturer at the University of Mississippi, which is the only entity legally permitted to conduct clinical research of products with a THC level above the 0.3% threshold; and
  • researchers conducting clinical research of products with a THC level below the 0.3% threshold.

The draft guidance reminds stakeholders that activities relating to growing and manufacturing cannabis for use as an investigational drug for research must comply with Controlled Substances Act and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) requirements and encourages researchers to contact the DEA with proposals of drug development activities involving a THC level above the legal threshold.

Quality considerations

The draft guidance explains that researchers are expected to show that they can consistently manufacture a quality product by submitting information as to the “identity, quality, purity, and potency or strength of the investigational drug”, as well as “quantitative data regarding phytochemicals that are present in their proposed product, including but not limited to, cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids”. Researchers are directed to a number of resources for quality considerations, including:

  • CGP for Phase 1 Investigational Drugs (July 2008);
  • Analytical Procedures and Methods Validation for Drugs and Biologics (July 2015); and
  • Q2(R1) Validation of Analytical Procedures: Text and Methodology (March 1995).

Researchers are recommended to pay particular attention to the guidance for industry entitled Botanical Drug Development (December 2016), which provides “core principles for conducting clinical research on botanical drugs”.

Calculation of THC levels

The draft guidance recommends that researchers “calculate the level of delta-9 THC in their proposed investigational drug product early in the development process to gain insight into the potential control status of their product” and work with “reliable laboratories for analytical testing”. Further, it recommends that applicants for an investigational new drug provide the FDA with “quantitative data, such as a certificate of analysis from a laboratory… indicating the percent of… THC by dry weight” and “detailed descriptions of testing methods used to evaluate the level of… THC”.

The draft guidance concludes with a detailed description of how researchers should calculate the dry weight of THC in the botanical raw material and provides a breakdown based on the dosage form (eg, solution based or solid oral).

Industry impact

This is the first guidance released by the FDA, following the Farm Bill, which provides recommendations to industry on drugs that contain cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds of botanical origin. While helpful, it largely follows the guidance already provided for general botanical drug development. The FDA has not imposed new quality standards or considerations for these products.

The FDA’s principles and recommendations for botanical raw materials, botanical drug substances and botanical drug products remain applicable and are fundamentally well developed. The FDA’s botanical review team continues to serve as the expert resource on botanical issues and the Botanical Drug Development Guidance for Industry remains the primary resource to assist those pursuing drug development in this area. Considering the FDA’s previous statements provided on its website (FDA and Cannabis: Research and Drug Approval Process), this guidance’s most notable takeaway is the FDA’s clear and direct statement that clinical research on products containing less than 0.3% THC can be openly sourced and researchers are not limited to procurement through the National Institute on Drug Abuse Drug Supply Program.

Industry is expected to continue to pursue research in the cannabis and cannabis-related product space with a marked uptick as access to cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds increases. The FDA’s guidance signals its focus on providing transparency to stakeholders and its recognition that industry is looking to speed up the development of these products through clear and streamlined regulatory pathways.

For further information on this topic please contact Khelin N Aiken or Martine Gaetan at Baker McKenzie by telephone (+1 202 452 7000​) or email ( or The Baker McKenzie website can be accessed at​

The materials contained on this website are for general information purposes only and are subject to the disclaimer.

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