Imagine you have a loved one with severe epilepsy. They experience dozens of seizures a day, and despite being on countless prescription medications, nothing seems to work. Now imagine there is a drug that could treat them and greatly improve their quality of life, without potentially dangerous side affects.
This drug is cannabis, and it is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive of all drug classifications. For a drug to be classified as a Schedule I drug, it must have no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse, whereas Schedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse and a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Currently, marijuana legalization is a very controversial and highly debated topic.
Four states, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have all legalized both medical and recreational marijuana. Many have decriminalized possession or legalized medical marijuana. It is important to revisit the current classification and examine the evidence to decide what is to be done legally in regards to cannabis in the United States.
It is not justified for the federal government to classify cannabis as a Schedule I drug. It should be reclassified as a Schedule II drug because the medical benefits are proven and outweigh potential risks.
Reclassification of cannabis to a Schedule II drug would properly acknowledge that cannabis has medical benefits. Both a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine and the American Medical Association (AMA) and a 2001 report by the AMA found that cannabis prevents severe weight loss in AIDS patients and treats symptoms of chemotherapy, such as nausea, vomiting, and severe pain. Cannabis has also been found to treat severe epilepsy.
A young girl named Charlotte with SCN1, A-confirmed Dravet syndrome, started cannabis treatment using a strain now known as Charlotte’s Web. When combined with her existing antiepileptic drug regimen, her seizure frequency was greatly reduced from almost 50 seizures per day to 2-3 per month.
This effect has continued for 20 months, and Charlotte is now completely weaned off of all other antiepileptic drugs. While there are not many studies performed on marijuana, the ones that have been performed all conclude that marijuana does have medical benefits.
Opponents to cannabis claim that it has no medical benefit. The FDA has stated that no scientific evidence shows medical benefit of smoked marijuana. Some researchers who study medical marijuana, as well as a few patient advocacy groups, claim that the FDA decision was based on political pressure from Congress rather than on scientific evidence. Other researchers however have conducted studies with findings showing little benefit.
In fact, cannabis has to meet extra standards that aren’t required by the FDA for any other drug. Researchers are required to show that cannabis would be a more effective treatment for a condition than other drugs, which is a standard that is not applied to any other new drug proposal. Furthermore, the federal government didn’t do the necessary research in the first place. Under the Controlled Substances Act, scientific evaluation and testimony is required before legislative action is taken.
In 1970, when Congress classified cannabis, it didn’t follow its usual review process and made cannabis illegal in the absence of scientific evidence. Others claim that not only does cannabis not have medical benefits, also that it is harmful, citing possibilities such as respiratory issues. While cannabis may have some potential harm, the benefits outweigh the risks.
Many prescription drugs have dangerous side affects, but are still on the market because they treat certain medical issues. Similarly, while cannabis has some risks, they are small compared to other pharmaceutical drugs. Overall, cannabis does have medical benefit and these benefits outweigh any potential risks.
Lastly, cannabis should be reclassified as a Schedule II drug because other drugs similar to or more dangerous than cannabis are classified as a Schedule II drug or are completely legalized. Cannabis’ Schedule I classification seems irrational when looking at the fact that other drugs are Schedule II that have some medical benefit but also a high abuse potential.
For example, opioids are used as a painkiller, cocaine is used as a topical anesthetic and vasoconstrictor, and psychostimulants similar to methamphetamine are used to treat ADD/ADHD. Cannabis’ potential for addition is much lower than other drugs that are legalized or classified lower. Its lifetime dependence rate is 9 percent compared to nicotine at 32 percent, heroin at 23 percent, cocaine at 17 percent and alcohol at 15 percent.
Also, cannabis is arguably safer than alcohol and tobacco, both of which are legal. No one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana or complications arising from use. Compare that to the 50,000 Americans who die every year from alcohol poisoning and the 400,000 who die from cigarette smoking. When comparing cannabis to drugs that are legal or classified lower, cannabis is safer and should be reclassified to reflect that.
The federal government is not justified in classifying cannabis as a Schedule I drug. Cannabis has proven medical benefits that outweigh its potential harms and other drugs that are similar to or more harmful than cannabis are classified lower or completely legalized. Cannabis should be reclassified as a Schedule II drug, which would properly acknowledge its medical benefits but also recognize its addictive potential.
Column by: Rachel Bader, Contributing Columnist