Marijuana-derived and cannabis resin products should be delisted from current restrictive categories, says UN agency
Calls for a reassessment of global cannabis laws
have been backed the World Health Organization.
The specialised United Nations agency has, in its
latest report on drugs, suggested that a raft of recent scientific evidence
supporting the medical benefits of cannabis means it “should be rescheduled”.
According to papers published by the British Medical
Journal, the WHO is recommending that some marijuana-derived and cannabis resin
products should be delisted from the Schedule IV category of the UN Single
Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.
The Schedule IV treaty was designed to curb illicit
production and supply of unresearched compounds that were considered to be
This change of heart from the WHO represents a
marked U-turn in policy which has remained strictly against using cannabis in
medicine for more than 60 years.
The recommendation comes from the agency’s
specialist Committee on Drug Dependence.
Drugs listed under Schedule IV (and also Schedule I,
by default) are categorised as holding ‘dangerous properties’ and, therefore,
cannot be considered to have therapeutic benefits. This restricts their use in
any capacity – including research.
By removing cannabis from Schedule IV, it opens the
floodgates to researchers and scientists keen to further explore the potential
health benefits of cannabis-derived products.
“Cannabis and cannabis resin are included in
Schedule I and Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic
Drugs,” the report states.
“Substances that are included in both these Schedules
are particularly liable to abuse and to produce ill-effects and have little or
no therapeutic use.
“Other substances that are included in both
Schedules I and IV are fentanyl analogues, heroin and other opioids that are
considered especially dangerous.
“Use of all these substances is associated with
a significant risk of death, whereas cannabis use is not associated with such
risk. Based on the evidence presented to it, the Committee say that cannabis
plant and cannabis resin are not liable to produce the same ill-effects as
other substances in the Schedule IV category.”
Scientists currently face a quagmire of regulation
that hinders their research into therapeutic uses for cannabidiol, purely
because of its placing on Schedule IV.
Addressing this issue, the report continued: “In
line with the above, cannabis and cannabis resin should be scheduled at a level
of control that will prevent harm caused by cannabis use and at the same time
will not act as a barrier to access and to research and development of
cannabis-related preparation for medical use.”
However, while removal from Schedule IV will lift
many restrictions, cannabis is to remain on Schedule I in accordance with the
committee’s concerns about “high rates of public health problems arising
from cannabis use”.
A further recommendation was made to remove
tetrahydrocannabinol and dronabinol – both forms of psychoactive THC – and
place them into Schedule I in order to simplify the classification process.
Importantly, a proposal was put forward by the
committee that products made with cannabidiol containing no more than 0.2% THC
should be taken off international drug control legislation. This could be a key
factor in escalating the growing industry surrounding the production of
“Cannabidiol is found in cannabis and cannabis
resin but does not have psychoactive properties and has no potential for abuse
and no potential to produce dependence,” the committee statement said.
“It does not have significant ill-effects.
Cannabidiol has been shown to be effective in the management of certain
treatment-resistant, childhood-onset epilepsy disorders.
“It was approved for this use in the United States
in 2018 and is currently under consideration for approval by the EU.”
The WHO’s recommendations have been welcomed by
advocacy groups like Paris-based ‘For Alternative
Approaches to Addiction, Think & do tank’ (FAAAT), which has been
campaigning for better understanding of cannabis as a medical product since the
group was formed in 2016.
Its global policy adviser – Michael Krawitz – took
to American magazine Newsweek to heap praise upon the World Health
Organization’s stance, labelling the drug’s inclusion in the 1961
classification as an injustice.
“The WHO has gone a long way towards setting
the record straight,” he said.
“It is time for us all to support the World
Health Organization’s recommendations and ensure politics don’t trump science.
“Advocates thank the WHO Experts for their work, and
WHO leadership for consistently defending the medical needs of our world.”
His views were echoed by FAAAT’s head of research – Kenzi
Riboulet-Zemouli – who suggested that, while the WHO recommendations were to be
embraced by the cannabis industry, the fight to open more doors for cannabis
products would continue.
“This outcome is not the end of the road in the
struggle for access and availability of cannabis-based medicines and I hope
that nobody expected that, as the mandate of WHO has always been known to be
limited, it gives an important positive signal to countries,” he said.
“If the recommendations of the WHO are adopted,
it will substantially increase the normalisation and development of access,
availability, and quality of cannabis-based medicines in our health