Paving the way for global medical research, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted in December 2020 to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of their drug classification list. Schedule IV also includes dangerous and highly addictive drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. The reclassification, which garnered support from the U.S., was approved by a narrow margin, with only one nation abstaining from the vote. Notably, cannabis is still deemed a controlled substance by the U.N., but the reclassification is expected to bolster efforts to study the drug’s medical and therapeutic benefits across the globe.
World Health Organization Recommends Removal From Schedule IV List
In its recommendation to the U.N., the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that while cannabis usage can cause dependence and other adverse reactions, the limited scientific research supports a finding that cannabis consumption has been useful to reduce pain and nausea. Cannabis has also been found to effectively treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. The recommendation report went on to state that cannabis’s current classification ignores its medical benefits and its dissimilarity to other drugs on the list, notably heroin and fentanyl, which have little or no therapeutic application. Further, the recommendation for removal of cannabis from that list is an admission by the WHO that cannabis does not produce the same risk of addiction and potentially adverse physical reactions that those other drugs on Schedule IV are known to cause.
Because of marijuana’s classification, researchers have done very few studies on the therapeutic benefits of the drug. Notably, one of the only nations to have done any in-depth studies on marijuana has been Israel, a country that has long held liberal views toward the scientific study and potential therapeutic value of the drug. Observers are hopeful that the WHO’s recommendation, along with the decision by the U.N. to reclassify marijuana, will encourage other participating nation members to approve additional medical and scientific research of the drug, along with future agreements between nations to import marijuana.
U.S. Supports Cannabis Reclassification
In perhaps the most overt signaling of a possible change in the federal government’s position on marijuana, the U.S. voted to support removal of cannabis from the U.N.’s Schedule IV list. Under current U.S. law, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and other dangerous narcotics. And while more than half of all U.S. states have legalized marijuana in some form, the drug still remains illegal under federal law.
Industry insiders have pointed to the continued Schedule I classification as a main contributor to the dearth of U.S. based medical research on the effectiveness of marijuana in treating certain medical conditions. The U.S.’s support of the U.N.’s reclassification, along with the FDA’s approval of a cannabinoid extract used in the treatment of rare seizure disorders in children, may signal an upcoming change in the U.S.’s classification of the drug.
Russia A Vocal Dissenter
Citing the tired and flawed argument of the risk of abuse in children, Russia was the most vocal member nation to vote no on marijuana’s reclassification. Calling cannabis the most abused drug in the world (psst, Comrade, Vodka is also a drug), the Russians vehemently opposed reclassification, claiming there was little evidence to suggest that marijuana was any different from other Schedule IV drugs.