Here's Why the DEA Re-Scheduling Just One Cannabis-Based Drug Is a Very Big Deal
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Last week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency made a historic move, re-scheduling “FDA-approved approved drugs that contain CBD derived from cannabis and no more than 0.1 percent tetrahydrocannabinols [THC].” This meant that FDA-approved drugs containing CBD were moved out of the Schedule I category, which they previously shared with highly-addictive drugs like heroin, to the Schedule V category, which implies signifies medical uses and low potential for abuse.
For the time being, this change is quite limited to just one cannabis-derived drug approved by the FDA: GW Pharmaceuticals’ cannabis-derived Epidiolex, a drug for treating patients with treatment-resistant Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, or LGS, a rare form of childhood-onset epilepsy. However, the significance of the DEA’s decision cannot be overstated. It sets an invaluable precedent as it is the first time the federal government has acknowledged the medical potential of CBD and, by association, of the cannabis plant that is its source.
This decision opens a new road for other CBD-containing drugs to pursue FDA approval and a subsequent DEA re-classification. It is the first crack in the previously impregnable Federal stance against anything cannabis-related.
Information is power.
As of 2018, research on cannabis’ therapeutic potential in the US was virtually barred by the DEA's Schedule I classification of the plant. The lack of scientific information on cannabis created a veil of ignorance that made it impossible to combat prevailing misconceptions. In this sense, Epidiolex represents a paradigm shift, as researchers (under a federal charter in the United Kingdom) were able to perform a scientific study on CBD and found measurable medical benefits.
Of course parents, physicians, and other advocates have known about these benefits for years. However, they now have the scientific study to back it up. Presented with verifiable data on the health benefits of Epidiolex, the FDA chose (or maybe was compelled) to approve its use.
With this approval and consequent re-scheduling of a cannabis-derived drug, marijuana can no longer be disregarded as an escapist drug for “stoners.” Instead, cannabis has to be seen as what it is: a medicine with scientifically verifiable benefits.
The cannabis industry may have only gained an inch of ground with the latest DEA decision. But that inch was fought over and won with passion and empathy; and there is no going back now. Time only marches forward.
But the battle is far from over. Next up is the re-scheduling of THC-based cannabis products. This is going to be an arduous, uphill fight against decades of propaganda and entrenched business interests related to the War on Drugs. Nowadays, most health benefits related to THC are overshadowed by irrational fear of the intoxicating effects, which evoke concerns about substance abuse and related public safety concerns (i.e. driving while intoxicated) and the archetype of the “lazy stoner.”
The battle to re-schedule all CBD-containing products might be easier. CBD, a chemical compound almost unknown to popular culture until recently, doesn't carry the same stigma as THC. In fact, CBD has emerged in recent years as a “wonder drug” with a long list of potential benefits and no dangerous downsides. The difference between CBD and other buzzy “wonder drugs” is that recent scientific study has proven the health benefits through exacting clinical trials.
But the struggle goes on and is far from over. We, the people in the cannabis movement, need to continue to erode the facade of control that the Federal government wants to exert over a non-toxic, non-addictive substance like CBD and other cannabis-derived compounds, substances with the potential to bring profound benefits to our society.