The cannabis community received long awaited news from the DEA this week regarding the rescheduling of cannabis. Most folks in the world of cannabis are pretty disappointed by the decision.
The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 created a system known as scheduling to classify the various substances covered by the Act. Each substance was given a designation ranging from Schedule I (most restrictive) to Schedule V (least restrictive). Schedule I was reserved for drugs that meet the following criteria.
- The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
- The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
- There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD and (oddly enough) cannabis. The Schedule I designation means research into therapeutic uses of cannabis is tightly circumscribed. This creates a catch-22 by making it incredibly difficult to obtain evidence that could be used to move cannabis to a less restrictive schedule.
About five years ago, a petition was filed asking the DEA to consider moving cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II. The DEA initiated a painstakingly slow review process that culminated with the announcement that cannabis would remain in the Schedule I category.
The failure to reschedule on the part of the DEA is a scandalous example of political hypocrisy. The decision lies in the face of science, reason, compassion and common sense, as we can see by looking at each of the three criteria listed above.
Potential For Abuse
Any drug can be abused, but the potential for problems is particularly low with Cannabis. Physical addiction is possible, but fairly rare. According to Wikipedia, cannabis dependence arises in about 9% of users, significantly less than the rate for alcohol, cocaine and prescribed anxiolytics, none of which are designated Schedule I.
With a rate of abuse lower than legal substances like alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs, why should cannabis be singled out for Schedule I treatment?
The idea that cannabis has no accepted medical use would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that it causes so many to be deprived of necessary medication or subjected to arrest and prosecution for trying to cure or manage an illness or injury.
Cannabis is legal for medical use in 25 states plus the District of Columbia. An additional 17 states have limited access laws that allow the use of high CBD/low THC cannabis products. This means that doctors in more than 40 states are using cannabis products to safely and effectively treat their patients.
As hard as it is to conduct research on a Schedule I drug like cannabis, we have a number of studies that show the efficacy of cannabis for a variety of ailments. A recent post on the Weed Blog [Link http://www.theweedblog.com/10-studies-released-in-2016-that-exemplify-cannabis-medical-diversity/] listed a number of studies proving the medical value of cannabis, with headlines like CBD Oil ‘Highly Promising’ as Treatment for Pediatric Epilepsy; Heart Attack Patients with History of Cannabis Use Less Likely to Die During Hospitalization and Cannabis Use Can Help Treat Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder.
As if all of this weren’t enough, in perhaps the most stunning display of US government hypocrisy on record, the US government holds a patent on the cannabinoid CBD for use as an antioxidant and neuroprotectant.
That means that the same government that has declared that cannabis has no medical use also holds a patent on a component of cannabis for, wait for it, a medical use. Take a minute to get your head around that.
Safety of Cannabis
The Schedule I designation has made it hard to research the safety of cannabis, but we have more than enough evidence to justify further research.
For starters, the medical literature contains zero instances of fatal cannabis overdose.That alone makes cannabis safer than alcohol, nicotine and pretty much every prescription drug that exists.
Medical cannabis officially began in California in 1996, but cannabis use for medical purposes dates back thousands of years. Despite the widespread use of medical cannabis spanning millenia, we have not seen significant numbers of emergency room visits, problematic medication interactions or other signs that cannabis is not a safe medicine.
In fact, the evidence that we have both empirical and anecdotal indicates that cannabis is among the safest medicines currently available. The evidence is certainly adequate to warrant the type of further investigation that the Schedule I designation makes nearly impossible.
Reactions to the DEA’s failure to Reschedule have run the gamut from outrage to resignation. Some see this as a defeat for the cannabis community, while others believe that it will only strengthen our resolve.
I see this as a setback, rather than a defeat. The arrow of time is moving toward the end of federal prohibition. I believe that this is a matter of when, not if. While rescheduling cannabis would mark another step down the road toward legalization, it would still merely be a step.
That’s because rescheduling is an incremental move toward the true end of descheduling, or completely removing cannabis from within the purview of the Controlled Substances Act. This would allow the states to regulate cannabis the same way they do alcohol, paving the way for both medical and recreational use.
I do agree with those who believe that this will only strengthen our resolve. We have seen the legalization movement make huge gains over the last few years. It’s only a matter of time before we see rescheduling, descheduling and the complete liberation of this truly amazing plant.