Cannabis and its derivatives are on their way to being more widely recognised for their medicinal and therapeutic benefits following the drug’s reclassification this week as a non-narcotic.
The most widely-used illicit drug lost its status as one of the world’s most dangerous when members of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) agreed to remove it from Schedule IV of a control treaty signed in 1961 by 73 countries.
The Vienna-based commission voted 27-25 to reschedule cannabis and cannabis resin within the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, with the US, UK, Germany and South Africa among those countries in favour of the move, while nations such as Brazil, China, Russia and Pakistan were among those opposed.
The CND was acting on a recommendation from the World Health Organisation’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence to remove the drug from the world’s most restrictive control scheduling category.
Substances classified as Schedule IV are a subset of Schedule I drugs, meaning they are not only considered to be “highly addictive and highly liable for abuse”, but are also labelled as “particularly harmful and of extremely limited medical or therapeutic value”.
The category includes dangerous and highly-addictive opioids such as heroin, methadone, morphine and cocaine.
In its recommendation to CND, the WHO committee noted that cannabis can have adverse effects and cause dependence but these were not consistent with the criteria for drugs in Schedule IV category.
It said that despite “limited robust scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis”, the drug had been shown to be different from Schedule IV substances which have little or no therapeutic value.
The CND’s move will come as welcome relief to millions of people worldwide who rely on cannabis for therapeutic purposes and reflects a growing trend towards exploiting the drug for its positive benefits.
The change is also expected to have far-reaching impacts on cannabis research and the drug’s use in various medicinal treatments.
Interest in cannabis for medical use is believed to be at an all-time high, with the number of products containing derivatives such as cannabidoil (or CBD) expanding rapidly in recent years.
Companies such as Incannex Healthcare (ASX: IHL), AusCann Group (ASX: AC8) and Cronos Australia (ASX: CAU) are all keen to ride the medicinal cannabis wave and are forging ahead with the development of products for the growing sector.
“Cannabis helps in reducing pain and nausea, as well as easing symptoms of medical conditions such as anorexia, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis,” the WHO committee said.
“And cannabis, unlike other drugs such as fentanyl, heroin and morphine, does not carry a significant risk of death.”
Cannabis will remain subject to strict controls within Schedule I of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which includes Fentanyl, opium and oxycodone (the opiate painkiller sold as OxyContin).
The US Government believes the drug “continues to pose significant risks to public health and should continue to be controlled” while WHO noted the “high rates of public health problems arising from cannabis use”.