Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has called upon the U.S. federal government to regulate cannabis in order to effectively assess its medicinal value.

Marijuana remains illegal at a federal level despite a number of states legalizing it for medicinal purposes, recreational purposes or both. That makes it difficult for research to take place, according to Gottlieb.

It comes after the death toll for a vaping-related pulmonary illness in the U.S. rose to seven, while hundreds more have been taken sick. Most reported vaping both nicotine and THC products.

Many experts speculate that the illness is linked to illegal vapes containing vitamin E oil, which is used as an emulsifying agent and dangerous when inhaled.

“Consumers are urged to avoid buying vaping products on the street and to refrain from using THC oil or modifying [or] adding any substances to products purchased in stores,” the FDA said in a statement.

While the FDA does not have enough data presently to conclude that vitamin E acetate is the cause of the lung illness in these cases, the agency believes it is prudent to avoid inhaling this substance.

Gottlieb says vapes containing THC fall into a regulatory gap, because they are not derived from tobacco and they are not within the FDA remit. Regulating THC, including vapes, at a federal level would allow the FDA to gain a tighter grip on the issue and conduct more effective research.

He believes the current situation is unsustainable. Right now states can legalize adult-use cannabis consumption, but he claims they do not properly regulate it, while it is still an illegal substance for the federal government, which does not study it either.

He wants the country to move past the social stigma attached to marijuana use and address it as a public health issue and a regulatory issue.

Right now the body of evidence is thin and would never allow products to gain FDA approval, according to Gottlieb.

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