World Health Organization Announces Scientific Consensus on Medical Cannabis


Medical Cannabis Policy Now in the Hands of UN Commission on Narcotics Drugs

In a historical statement published today, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced its recommendation to Governments to delete cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Schedule IV of the Single Convention contains narcotic drugs that are considered particularly dangerous and without any therapeutic importance. Cannabis and cannabis resin were included in this Schedule at the time of the adoption of the Single Convention in 1961. Governments are encouraged by the Single Convention to prohibit the production, distribution, and use of drugs in this Schedule.

The decision to include cannabis and cannabis resin in Schedule IV of the Single Convention was due to a politically motivated biased approach to cannabis in some Western countries, in particular, the United States, and not on scientific grounds as required in this convention. In the following decades, patients around the world found cannabis useful in treating their ailments but they were prevented from legal access to this medicine due to prohibitive laws in their countries based on the provisions of the Single Convention for drugs in Schedule IV.

The determination of patients to fight for legal access to medical cannabis and the quickly increasing amount of scientific evidence confirming its medical usefulness has led, since the 1990s, to the establishment of medical cannabis programs in some countries. However, the vast majority of patients around the world have continuously been prevented from the legal access to this medicine. The advocates of medical use of cannabis, both patients and scientists, were repeatedly requesting WHO to fulfill its mandate under the Single Convention and carry out a scientific review of cannabis to fairly evaluate its therapeutic usefulness in order to propose correction of its status under the Single Convention.

In March 2016, the group of world-renowned cannabis experts convened by the patients´ organization “Americans for Safe Access” submitted to WHO a comprehensive document proving the medical usefulness of cannabis and structured strictly in line with the WHO. Following that, in November 2016, WHO agreed to carry out a review of cannabis and its derivatives. This review process took place in several stages and was finalized today with the issuance of these recommendations to the UN Committee on Narcotic Drugs.

This would represent a major step forward in the medical use of cannabis worldwide since no Government could now refer to this international treaty as a reason for the prohibition of the medical use of cannabis. Moreover, in line with the provisions of the Single Convention, the Governments would now be obliged to ensure the adequate availability of cannabis for the relief of pain and suffering of patients in their countries.

“It is gratifying that the World Health Organization has recognized the scientific fact that cannabis and its derivatives have demonstrable therapeutic properties and can be the base for safe and effective medicines. It is now incumbent upon governments of the USA and other nations to eliminate the barriers to research on cannabis and allow its free commerce across state lines and international frontiers” stated Ethan Russo, MD, a neurologist and Director of Research and Development of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI).

In addition, the WHO made recommendations to reschedule dronabinol and other THC isomers from the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances to the Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.

Furthermore, the WHO recommended to include some cannabis and THC preparations to Schedule III of the 1961 Convention which would exempt them from many control measures of this Convention and importantly facilitate the access of patients to them. The WHO also recommended CND to confirm that CBD preparations containing not more than .02% of THC are not under international control. None of these modifications would change the prohibition of cannabis and THC for recreational l purposes. 

“These recommendations were inevitable and their adoptions by the UN Committee on Narcotic Drugs would enhance public health globally,” stated Dr. Pavel Pachta, ICCI’s International Regulatory Affairs Director and former Deputy Secretary of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). “We do not expect that the CND would vote against these recommendations as they come from scientific experts and are based on rigorous scientific review.”

In line with the provisions of the Single Convention, this recommendation of WHO will now be put on vote during the sixty-second session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs which will meet in Vienna, Austria, in March 2019. Fifty-three States are members of this Commission and a single majority of the members present and voting is required to approve the recommendation by WHO.

Full letter from WHO to CND can be found here.

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