A World Health Organization (WHO) committee met earlier this month to go over a pre-review of the research it’s done on cannabis. This pre-review, which deems marijuana a “relatively safe drug” and includes a number of studies pointing to the plant’s beneficial effects, could ultimately bring about cannabis law reform all around the world. The WHO, which is made up of 194 member countries including the U.S., works within the United Nations framework to “achieve better health for everyone, everywhere”—meaning, it can and does influence the legal classification of various drugs by its member countries.
Prior to the WHO meeting, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked the general public to weigh in on whether marijuana should remain a Schedule 1 drug on par with LSD and heroin—as designated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. The FDA received over 17,000 comments, the majority of which favored an end to cannabis prohibition. These comments were submitted to the WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD), the group conducting the formal review on cannabis’s safety and medical value.
The ECDD reaffirmed its preliminary findings, released back in December 2017, with a critical review that states cannabidiol (CBD) has no negative health-related problems associated with its consumption. Rather, it concludes, “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile,” and no potential for abuse or dependency.
Meanwhile, the committee’s pre-review included a look at current research on cannabis and cannabis resin, extracts and tinctures, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and THC isomers. When it comes to the therapeutic use of marijuana for specific conditions, here’s some of what the committee found:
The ECDD concluded that randomized, controlled studies were scarce or non-existent for a number of other ailments such as autism and opioid withdrawal, making it impossible for the committee to review marijuana’s effectiveness in treating quite a few conditions.
Though the committee found that “cannabis is not associated with acute fatal overdoses,” it did highlight potential adverse effects as follows:
That said, the positives appear to outweigh the negatives in the ECDD critical review as well as its pre-reviews. A more extensive review will take place, and any new scientific data discovered will get rolled into a final recommendation presented to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
As Portugal’s prime minister, Guterres led the country in decriminalizing all drugs, including marijuana. So, it’s safe to assume that he’d look positively on a change to international cannabis laws, one that might remove marijuana from Schedules I and IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs—an international treaty meant to block the production and supply of illicit drugs.
Were this to happen, it could then open the door for the UN’s participating countries to reform their own cannabis laws, making the plant more accessible for both research and consumption purposes.
As Jahan Marcu, chief science officer of Americans for Safe Access, explained it to Weed News, “The reports posted by WHO are supportive of nations considering rescheduling or de-scheduling CBD, pure-THC, cannabis and cannabis extracts.
“Hopefully, the work of the WHO will allow international leaders to expand access with policy recommendations and changes with reports showing that the public health risk of cannabis and its extracts are minimal.”
Photo credit: Xiquinho Silva