The reclassification of cannabis across the Pacific has moved a step closer after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded there is “credible evidence” that it does, after all, contains medicinal benefits.
The FDA also accepted that the risk of physical dependence among young people who use cannabis was low enough to recommend downgrading the substance from its current schedule one classification to schedule three.
The findings, contained in a 252-page report, will now be scrutinised by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which must approve the recommendation before cannabis can be down scheduled.
The report followed an order by President Joe Biden in late 2022 to review the federal status of cannabis, which has long been regarded as a dangerous substance in the US.
Schedule one is reserved for drugs which have no accepted medical value and a high risk of abuse, with heroin and LSD appearing alongside cannabis in the list.
But the FDA report could – as is thought likely – finally lift cannabis to schedule 3 status.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse is among the organisations which supports the reclassification, while in August, US Department of Health Services assistant secretary Rachel Levine called on the DEA to remove cannabis from the list of high-risk drugs.
In the report, the FDA said there is “some credible level of support for some of the therapeutic uses for which marijuana is being used in clinical practice in the United States”. They include nausea, chronic pain and anorexia.
However, it stopped short of suggesting safety and effectiveness data was sufficient to support formal approval of cannabis as a medical treatment.
The acceptance that a substance has medical benefits is one of three criteria that must be met to reclassify it to schedule three.
The review found cannabis met all three. Along with its medical properties, researchers concluded that cannabis also has a lower potential risk for abuse than other schedule one drugs and that the risk of physical dependence among young people who use the drug was low or moderate.
Writing in the report, researches noted that despite the “high prevalence of non-medical [cannabis] use”, and the widespread availability of high THC, it doesn’t result in serious outcomes compared with other drugs such as heroin, oxycodone and cocaine.
Recreational cannabis is legal in 24 US states, two territories and Washington DC, while 38 states permit the medicinal use of cannabis products.