The World Health Organization is set to reschedule cannabis for the first time in history due to its obvious health benefits.
For the last 60 years, WHO has maintained that cannabis should not be used in medicine.
However, according to the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, cannabis resin and other marijuana products should now be downgraded from a schedule IV to a schedule I drug under international law.
Newsweek.com reports: Schedule IV is the strictest category outlined in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs Treaty, meaning that cannabis is currently treated in the same way as heroin, severely restricting scientists who want to investigate the plant in the search for potential therapies.
The committee also recommended that THC—the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis—should be designated as a schedule I drug to simplify its classification. Currently, THC is classified separately as a schedule IV drug under the 1971 Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Furthermore, it proposes that products made with a cannabis extract known as cannabidiol, which contain no more than 0.2 percent THC, should be removed from all international drug control conventions.
“The placement of cannabis in the 1961 treaty, in the absence of scientific evidence, was a terrible injustice,” Michael Krawitz, global policy adviser at the nonprofit advocacy organization FAAAT that campaigns for the medical use of the drug, told the BMJ. “The World Health Organization has gone a long way toward setting the record straight.”
According to the FAAAT, the latest news has significant implications for the future role of cannabis in the field of medicine.
“The very positive outcome clearly acknowledges medical applications of cannabis and cannabinoids, reintegrates them into pharmacopoeias, balances harms and [effectively] repeals the WHO position from 1954, according to which ‘there should be efforts towards the abolition of cannabis from all legitimate medical practice,’” a statement from the organization read.
The Expert Committee makes decisions on the scheduling of substances based on their potential for harm, dependence and misuse, as well as their medical benefits. The WHO says that it has not reviewed cannabis since it was scheduled in 1961 because there was not sufficient scientific research into the health effects of the drug.
However, the organization said that in recent years this situation had changed as attitudes toward the drug shifted. Cannabis and cannabis-related products have now been legalized for medical use in several countries around the world, while Canada, South Africa and Uruguay—as well as several U.S. states—permit its recreational use.
Ethan Russo of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute told Newsweek that the WHO’s latest proposals were very significant given the organization’s historical stance on cannabis.
“These recommendations are of monumental importance as they may lead to the overcoming of barriers to research, enhance access of patients to cannabis-based medicine, and allow free commerce of cannabis products internationally,” he said.
Meanwhile, international drug policy expert Martin Jelsma from the Transnational Institute said this was the “first time in history” that the WHO had undertaken a proper critical review of cannabis and related substances.
Nevertheless, he said the committee’s proposals don’t go far enough, noting that its rationale for keeping cannabis in schedule I is “highly questionable.”
“The problem is that after the inclusion of cannabis in 1961 (without a proper WHO review), it became itself one of the standards for further scheduling decisions for schedule I,” he told Newsweek. “The first test the WHO must do in its review process is whether a substance has ‘addiction-producing properties greater than those of codeine and more or less comparable to those of morphine’ or has ‘a liability to abuse comparable to that of cannabis, cannabis resin or cocaine.’
“Those are the basic criteria for scheduling decisions for schedule I,” he said. “Now one of the standards itself (cannabis) for the review process is being reviewed, that basic test needs to be done first with regard to similarity with the other standards, e.g., morphine or cocaine. The committee fails to do that which makes the recommendation to keep cannabis and resin in schedule I very questionable on procedural grounds.”