A collective sigh of relief was uttered in December amongst the worldwide CBD community in response to the World Health Organisation’s timely report on CBD (Cannabidiol).
Conducted by the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, it brings together current scientific evidence, plus contributions from 57 member states.
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WHO - CBD Is Safe, Non-toxic And Has Some Medical Benefits
The report found that “CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential” and that it “is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.” It further states that “there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
The WHO also highlight the current areas of scientific research into the the therapeutic use of CBD, citing in particular epilepsy, as well as preliminary research into other conditions such as psychosis, anxiety, chronic pain, and cancer.
A lack of any evidence suggesting toxicity, risk of abuse or addiction means that the committee could not find any grounds to warrant the classification of CBD as a controlled substance.
Many countries already share the WHO’s conclusions and are treating CBD differently to the cannabis plant at large. The United Kingdom’s Medical Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for example has ruled that if CBD is used for medical purposes, suppliers are subject to standard licensing requirements. In Australia, CBD has been placed in the Schedule 4 category, thus requiring a prescription from a doctor. And in Switzerland, CBD is not classed as a narcotic as it doesn’t produce any psychoactive effect.
US Position On CBD Contradicts WHO Report
That leaves the United States as the most prominent major player not in line with the WHO report’s findings.
Right now under US Federal law, cannabis and all its derivatives, including CBD, are classified as a Schedule 1 - having no medical use, lacking in safety and with a high potential for abuse.
While most people acknowledge that this is a total misclassification of the cannabis plant at large, it also has the added corollary of tarring CBD and other cannabinoids in the plant with the same unfair brush. This is because, according to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a substance and those products derived from it are in the same schedule. So in CBD’s case, it still comes under the same Schedule 1 description, meaning it cannot be prescribed by a doctor and those who buy artisan CBD products from dispensaries or online are breaking the law.
Another unfortunate effect is that any scientific research into CBD incurs the same heavy restrictions as cannabis.
But the CSA does make some exceptions such as the cases of the synthetic THC drugs Marinol and Nabilone, which were both given a less restrictive schedule. And it seems likely the same will happen when GW Pharma finally gets FDA approval for its pure CBD formulation, Epidiolex.
How Significant Then are the WHO Report’s Findings?
As an agency of the United Nations, it’s possible that the WHO’s report, having found a derivative of the cannabis plant free from any danger of abuse, plus recognising its efficacy and safety as a treatment for epilepsy and potentially other conditions, might force the issue of cannabis scheduling at large on an international level.
For many countries resistant to a reclassification of cannabis, the plant’s Schedule 1 status under the UN Single Treaty on Narcotic drugs is a standard excuse for discounting any change in cannabis scheduling. If you sign up to an international treaty, you have to comply with its regulations, right?
However, any amendments to the Single Treaty by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs must first receive a recommendation by the WHO. And guess who’s just published a balanced and favourable report regarding a derivative of the cannabis plant? Not only that, there is also talk that the same WHO committee may turn its attentions to cannabis in 2018.
Of course, this is a much oversimplified argument and there are many other big players standing in the way of cannabis, including its many derivatives, receiving a fair and workable classification. But, the WHO report gives a glimmer of hope that at least that the tides are turning.