It may have taken some time, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has just made history.
In a recent report, the WHO endorsed a conclusion from the agency’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) that cannabidiol (CBD) – the non-intoxicating component of the cannabis sativa plant – should not be scheduled as a controlled substance.
This endorsement comes on the heels of a recent review conducted by the ECDD at their 39th annual meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland in November 2017.
Annually, the committee meets to review a number of substances with potential for dependence, abuse, and harm to health. Based on their reviews, the ECDD will then update the WHO with recommendations on which substances should or shouldn’t be classified as scheduled substances.
Each substance is put through a pre-review and two expert peer reviews before any recommendations are made.
This year, the pre-review gave a brief explanation about CBD and how it works, but also explained its dependence and abuse potential, the nature and magnitude of public health problems related to the misuse and abuse of CBD, it’s possible therapeutic applications, the state of the legal and illegal production and sale of CBD, the current laws that govern CBD internationally, and other matters relevant for a recommendation on the scheduling of CBD.
In the first expert peer review on scheduling, the reviewer stated that there is no evidence that CBD as a substance is liable to similar abuse and similar ill-effects as substances such as cannabis and its main psychoactive ingredient, ∆-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The reviewer concluded that the information presented in the pre-review report does not justify scheduling of CBD.
Similarly, in the second expert peer review on scheduling of CBD, the reviewer stated that unlike THC, it has low affinity for the CB1 receptor and is devoid of psychoactive properties such as the ability to produce euphoria. The reviewer further pointed out that not only does the existing evidence (both clinical and pre-clinical) not support potential for abuse, including the lack of reinforcing properties, CBD also shows promise in the treatment of epilepsy and possibly substance use disorders among other indications. The reviewer concluded that the pre-review report does not warrant scheduling of CBD under United Nations International Drug Control Conventions.
Based on the three reports, the committee then made recommendations to the UN Secretary-General that CBD should not be placed under international control.
But although the reports came out in November, it drew international attention only on December 13, 2017 after the WHO published concrete recommendations from the ECDD’s meeting.
The WHO released this statement:
There is increased interest from Member States in the use of cannabis for medical indications including for palliative care. Responding to that interest and increase in use, WHO has in recent years gathered more robust scientific evidence on therapeutic use and side effects of cannabis and cannabis components.
To that end, the ECDD did an initial review of a cannabis compound called cannabidiol (CBD). Recent evidence from animal and human studies shows that its use could have some therapeutic value for seizures due to epilepsy and related conditions. Current evidence also shows that cannabidiol is not likely to be abused or create dependence as for other cannabinoids (such as Tetra Hydro Cannabinol (THC), for instance). The ECDD therefore concluded that current information does not justify scheduling of cannabidiol and postponed a fuller review of cannabidiol preparations to May 2018, when the committee will undertake a comprehensive review of cannabis and cannabis related substances.
CBD is finally getting the recognition it deserves
Although the WHO does not actually recommend the use of CBD, the world’s preeminent health organization has made it clear that CBD should not be scheduled for international control on the basis of current evidence.
In other words, they believe that countries should not be prohibited, at the international level, to produce and supply it for specific purposes, such as medical treatment and research, given that the WHO has not seen any evidence of potential for abuse or harm from CBD.
In addition, a spokesperson for the WHO wrote, “as to what is legal or illegal, that comes under national law, so it is up to countries to decide.”
Understandably, this groundbreaking endorsement by the health agency has stunned the medical cannabis community (and especially CBD advocates) around the globe who have been extolling the phytocannabinoid’s superior medicinal qualities for years. To have the World Health Organization – whose primary role is to direct international health within the United Nations’ system – make a bold statement on the safety and efficacy of CBD as medicine, this truly reflects the rapidly changing views and attitudes towards CBD specifically and cannabis in general.
There is no doubt that this statement by the WHO will reverberate through governments and member states of the U.N. as legalization of cannabis continues to gain momentum globally.
A fuller review on CBD will be carried out next year, when other cannabinoids are discussed. At that time, the WHO will make more specific recommendations and conclusions. Stay tuned.
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