Medicinal cannabis is legal in 33 states while recreational cannabis is legal in 10 states. BUT in the eyes of federal law cannabis is illegal in all 52 states. This is madness, and the DEA needs to sort this mess urgently.
Marijuana is one controversial drug that has attracted a love-hate relationship with the law throughout the years. Before the 1940s, it was actually a legal medicine in the U.S. 30 years later, President Nixon played a huge role in criminalizing the herb. Under his watch, cannabis was classified as a scheduled drug.
What is a Schedule 1 Drug?
President Nixon created the drug enforcement agency (DEA) in 1973 with the aim of combating the problem of drug abuse in America. There are five different schedules that classify drugs; this is based on the perceived medicinal value vis-à-vis potential for dependence and abuse. Schedule 1 drugs are considered to be of no medicinal value and therefore should not be prescribed by a physician. Schedule 1 drugs have the following characteristics:
- The drug lacks medicinal value.
- The drug has a high potential for abuse and dependence.
- The drug has no acceptable safety profile.
Apart from marijuana, other drugs in schedule 1 include heroin, LSD, ecstasy, methaqualone, and peyote.
There have been several relentless efforts from different quarters to get cannabis rescheduled by the DEA. Critics have argued that cannabis does not “fit the tab” to be classified in the same group as hard drugs such as heroin and meth. It is unfortunate that there have not been large enough clinical trials to establish the safety profile and efficacy of THC in treating various conditions. However, prohibition by federal law is a great deterrent to cannabis studies. Clearly, there are many benefits that would come with legalizing medicinal cannabis. We have prepared three strong reasons why we think the DEA should rescind on their hard stance against the criminalization of cannabis.
Three reasons why the DEA should reschedule cannabis
1. Does Cannabis have a high potential for Abuse?
There has been a lot of scientific back and forth regarding the addictive properties of cannabis. Given, THC found in cannabis has psychoactive and minimal psychedelic effects. It follows that users may get psychologically addicted to the high that comes with smoking cannabis. The question remains, is this any different from the high that comes with dependence on caffeine in coffee or theophylline in tea? Hold that thought.
Drug abuse is defined as the intentional, non-therapeutic use of a drug product or substance, even once, to achieve a desired psychological or physiological effect. Therefore, abuse potential refers to the likelihood that abuse will occur with a particular drug product or substance with CNS activity. Desired psychological effects can include euphoria, hallucinations and other perceptual distortions, alterations in cognition, and changes in mood.
– Adapted from FDA industry guidelines
Because tea and coffee and not scheduled, then one might argue that the severity of abuse potential is significant in this case. However, it would be difficult to find equal scales to assess the abuse potential of coffee and tea since the two have never been scheduled. It is obvious that the criminalization of a substance does a lot to fuel black market demand since the substance is scarce. If coffee or tea were prohibited, they would definitely thrive in the black market just like other prohibited substances.
2. Does Cannabis have Therapeutic Use?
So far, medicinal cannabis has been legalized in over 50% of states in America. This, of course, means that the medicinal value of cannabis has been appreciated and accepted. Unfortunately, there are no clear guidelines as to how much cannabis should be administered as a medicine. The safety profile of cannabis-based drugs has also been questioned. As a result, there is no consensus among medical practitioners about the efficacy as well as safety of cannabis in treating a number of conditions. This comes against the backdrop of limited research evidence, especially at the clinical level. But given that a majority of states have legalized medicinal cannabis for the treatment of various conditions based on available scientific evidence, it appears that the issue here is cold feet among medical practitioners as opposed to the “lack of therapeutic use” of cannabis.
3. Is it possible to carry out research on the safety profile of cannabis when it remains a schedule 1 drug?
It is clear that more research on cannabis is needed to clear out the air on certain issues, but how can this be possible when the herb is still under schedule 1? America has a hard stance on drug abuse and the penalties associated with this are very hefty and unforgiving. As a result, many “would-be-donors” of cannabis studies shy away from offering support because of the fear of consequences that may come with this. Researchers too are afraid of dirtying their reputation by being openly involved with cannabis.
So on one end, the DEA expects research evidence to guide future decisions on the herb, but on the other end, researchers are waiting for the DEA to reschedule cannabis so that they can have the confidence that there will not be any dire consequences inflicted on them. As a result, we are all stuck.
Lastly, the war on drugs has been a very costly affair for the nation as a whole. However, the results have been dismal. If anything, black market cannabis has continued to thrive over the years. This is very discouraging and perhaps its time the government took a different approach to the issue.
By rescheduling cannabis, researchers will be able to access funding and give us the results that we have all been waiting for. This also means that issues such as safety profile and efficacy will be dealt with, allowing medical practitioners to be confident in dispensing treatment. This will also have an impact on the budget allocation to the war on drugs.
- DEA. GOV: Drug Scheduling. Retrieved from https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling
- EMCDDA: A summary of reviews of evidence on the efficacy and safety of medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids. Retrieved from http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/attachments/10173/MedicalCannabis-BackgroundPaper.pdf
- NCBI (2017): The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425767/
- FDA. GOV: Assessment of Abuse Potential of Drugs Guidance for Industry. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/media/116739/download