The US Drug Enforcement Administration has long held that the non-psychoactive component of marijuana, cannabidiol, is a schedule I drug. That is, a drug that has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. But according to a preliminary report embraced by the World Health Organization this week, the DEA’s long-held stance is tripping.
In a preliminary report last month, the WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence concluded—and WHO agreed—that clinical and pre-clinical studies of CBD show no evidence of a potential for users to abuse the drug or suffer any harms. Moreover, the experts found plenty of inklings that CBD has medical benefits, particularly for treating epilepsy. In its conclusion, the ECDD declared that the current data “does not justify scheduling of cannabidiol.”
The ECDD’s report is just a first glance, however. The committee, which is generally tasked with assessing which drugs should be internationally controlled (scheduled) and how, will take a more extensive look in May of 2018. Then, it will review cannabis overall, as well as other cannabis compounds.
Nevertheless, the preliminary finding is likely to encourage CBD advocates and users, who have long argued that CBD is safe and effective at treating a range of medical conditions. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component of marijuana that generates a “high,” CBD does not create any such euphoric feelings. In fact, researchers have found that CBD may dampen the effects of THC when used together.
Instead, CBD is thought to have a broad range of actions on the endocannabinoid system—a collection of neurotransmitters that bind to receptors in the nervous system to mediate a variety of physiological processes, including mood, appetite, pain, and inflammation. Though researchers are still working out all of CBD’s functions, studies on animals and a small number on humans have found no evidence that it is toxic or addictive. It’s a relatively safe compound that is no more addictive than placebo in studies.
In terms of therapeutic potential, several clinical studies have found that pure CBD is effective at treating some types of epilepsy. In some cases it can completely eliminate seizures. There’s even a pure CBD product (Epidiolex®) currently in phase III trials. And researchers are also looking into using CBD for a range of other medical conditions. Though this work isn’t as far along as the epilepsy research, the ECDD noted that there’s positive preliminary data for treating a range of conditions. These include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, anxiety, pain, nausea, inflammatory bowel disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. There’s also evidence to suggest that CBD may be helpful in combating opioid addiction.
With the expanding data and the growing acceptance of marijuana in the states, there’s been a crescendo of interest in CBD and other cannabis products. Yet, the DEA has doubled-down on its position that CBD, as a part of marijuana, is a schedule I drug. In December of last year, the DEA made the point clear by creating a new drug code for marijuana extracts, including pure CBD.
This hasn’t stopped individual states from legalizing it, particularly for medical purposes. But without federal sanction and regulation, many CBD products—particularly those sold online—can be mislabeled, potentially putting patients at risk.
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