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World Health Organization

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 13, 2017

    oil_bottlesThe use of the naturally occurring cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) possesses no likely abuse potential and therefore should not be subject to international drug scheduling restrictions, according to recommendations finalized today by the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence.

    Concludes WHO: “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.”

    A preliminary report issued by WHO in November affirmed, “[T]here is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”

    In September, NORML submitted written testimony to the US Food and Drug Administration in opposition to the imposition of new international restrictions regarding CBD access. The FDA is one of a number of agencies that advised the World Health Organization in their review.

    Despite the international health agency’s acknowledgment that CBD is therapeutic, safe, and well-tolerated, it remains classified under US law as a schedule I controlled substance.

    “The domestic classification and criminalization of cannabidiol as a schedule I controlled substance is out of step with both available science and common sense,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “It is yet another example of the US government placing ideology over evidence when it comes to issues related to the cannabis plant.”

    Text of the WHO recommendations are online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 11, 2017

    oil_bottlesThe use of the naturally occurring cannabinoid CBD is safe, well tolerated, and is not associated with any significant adverse public health effects, according to the findings of a preliminary report compiled by the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence.

    Authors of the report declare that CBD is “not associated with abuse potential” and that it does not induce physical dependence. “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile,” they conclude.

    Nonetheless, they acknowledge that CBD remains classified as a schedule I controlled substance under US federal law – a classification that defines it as possessing a “high potential for abuse.”

    The WHO report also comments on CBD’s therapeutic efficacy, finding that the substance has “been demonstrated as an effective treatment for epilepsy,” and that there exists “preliminary evidence that CBD may be a useful treatment for a number of other medical conditions,” including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and psychosis.

    While authors acknowledge that the “unsanctioned medical use of CBD” oils and extracts is relatively common, they affirm, “[T]here is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”

    The World Health Organization is in the process of considering whether to place CBD within the agency’s international drug scheduling code. In September, NORML submitted written testimony to the US Food and Drug Administration in opposition to the enactment of new international restrictions regarding CBD access. The FDA is one of a number of agencies advising WHO in their final review.

    Full text of the preliminary report appears online here. The full text of NORML’s written testimony appears here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 14, 2011

    From Reuters News Wire:

    Alcohol kills more than AIDS, TB or violence
    Drinking causes more than 4 percent of deaths worldwide, WHO warns

    Alcohol causes nearly 4 percent of deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence, the World Health Organization warned on Friday.

    … Yet alcohol control policies are weak and remain a low priority for most governments despite drinking’s heavy toll on society from road accidents, violence, disease, child neglect and job absenteeism, it said.

    Approximately 2.5 million people die each year from alcohol related causes, the WHO said in its “Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health.”

    “The harmful use of alcohol is especially fatal for younger age groups and alcohol is the world’s leading risk factor for death among males aged 15-59,” the report found.

    Alcohol is a causal factor in 60 types of diseases and injuries, according to WHO’s first report on alcohol since 2004.

    Its consumption has been linked to cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, poisonings, road traffic accidents, violence, and several types of cancer, including cancers of the colorectum, breast, larynx and liver

    Of course the reason we see these startling links between alcohol consumption and disease is because ethanol, the psychoactive compound in alcohol, and acetaldehyde (what ethanol is converted to after ingestion), pose toxic risks to health cells and organs. By contrast, marijuana’s active compounds — the cannabinoids — pose little comparable risk to healthy cells and organs, and are incapable of causing fatal overdose.

    So answer me again: Why do we celebrate consumers and manufacturers of alcohol while we simultaneously target, arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate consumers and producers of a far safer substance?

    Isn’t it time to visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ and ask your elected officials that same question?

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 1, 2010

    US News & World Report recently probed the subject of cannabis science, publishing a pair of stories on the subject here and here.

    Neither story particularly breaks any new ground, though the author (who I spoke with extensively prior to the stories publication) does note that investigators are now assessing the use of cannabis for a wide range of disease conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and the so-called ‘superbug’ MRSA (multi-drug resistant bacterial infections).

    Quoted in the story is Columbia University researcher Margaret Haney. I’ve written about Haney’s clinical work with cannabis before. In particular, Haney was the lead author of a 2007 clinical trial concluding that inhaled cannabis increased daily caloric intake and body weight in HIV-positive patients in a manner that was far superior to the effects of oral THC (Marinol aka Dronabinol). The study further reported that subjects’ use of marijuana was well tolerated, and did not impair their cognitive performance.

    Yet Haney’s comments in US News and World Report ring tepid at best.

    “I am not anti-marijuana, I’m not pro-marijuana. I want to understand it.” Haney expresses frustration at what she considers wrongheaded efforts by states to legalize medical marijuana. There is too much, she says, that scientists do not know.

    Haney’s refrain is a common one, and at first glance it appears to make sense. After all, who among us doesn’t want to better understand the interactions between the marijuana plant and the human body? Yet placed in proper context this sentiment appears to be little more than a red herring. Here’s why.

    Marijuana is already the most studied plant on Earth, and is arguably one of the most investigated therapeutically active substances known to man. To date, there are now over 20,000 published studies or reviews in the scientific literature pertaining to marijuana and its active compounds. That total includes over 2,700 separate papers published on cannabis in 2009 and another 900 published just this year alone (according to a key word search on the search engine PubMed).

    And what have we learned from these 20,000+ studies? Not surprisingly, quite a lot. For starters, we know that cannabis and its active constituents are uniquely safe and effective as therapeutic compounds. Unlike most prescription or over-the-counter medications, cannabinoids are virtually non-toxic to health cells or organs, and they are incapable of causing the user to experience a fatal overdose. Unlike opiates, cannabinoids do not depress the central nervous system, and as a result they possess a virtually unparalleled safety profile. In fact, a 2008 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association (CMAJ) reported that cannabis-based drugs were associated with virtually no serious adverse side effects in over 30 years of investigative use.

    We also know that the cannabis plant contains in excess of 60 active compounds that likely possess distinctive therapeutic properties. These include THC, THCV, CBD, THCA, CBC, and CBG, among others. In fact, a recent review by Raphael Mechoulam and colleagues identifies nearly 30 separate therapeutic effects — including anti-cancer properties, anti-diabetic properties, neuroprotection, and anti-stroke properties — in cannabinoids other than THC. Most recently, a review by researchers in Germany reported that since 2005 there have been 37 controlled studies assessing the safety and efficacy of cannabinoids, involved a total of 2,563 subjects. By contrast, most FDA-approved drugs go through far fewer trials involving far fewer subjects.

    Finally, we know that Western civilization has been using cannabis as a therapeutic agent or recreational intoxicant for thousands of years with relatively few adverse consequences — either to the individual user or to society. In fact, no less than the World Health Organization commissioned a team of experts to compare the health and societal consequences of marijuana use compared to other drugs, including alcohol, nicotine, and opiates. After quantifying the harms associated with both drugs, the researchers concluded: “Overall, most of these risks (associated with marijuana) are small to moderate in size. In aggregate they are unlikely to produce public health problems comparable in scale to those currently produced by alcohol and tobacco. On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.

    That, in a nutshell, is what we ‘know’ about cannabis. I’d say that it’s ample enough information to, at the very least, cease the practice arresting people who possess it.  As for what else Dr. Haney and others of a similar mindset would still like to know — and how many additional studies would it take to provide them with that information — well, that’s anybody’s guess.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 11, 2010

    So this is your administration on drugs. Any questions?

    Obama drug plan ‘firmly opposes’ legalization as California vote looms
    via The Hill

    The Obama administration said Tuesday that it “firmly opposes” the legalization of any illicit drugs as California voters head to the polls to consider legalizing marijuana this fall.

    The president and his drug czar re-emphasized their opposition to legalizing drugs in the first release of its National Drug Control Strategy this morning.

    “Keeping drugs illegal reduces their availability and lessens willingness to use them,” the document, prepared by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, says. “That is why this Administration firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other illicit drug.”

    Is anyone surprised? You shouldn’t be. After all, this is the same Gil Kerlikowske that has said repeatedly that legalization is not in his vocabulary, and publicly stated, “Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit.” And this is the same administration that recently nominated Michele Leonhart to head the DEA — the same Michele Leonhart who overruled the DEA’s own administrative law judge in order to continue to block medical marijuana research, and publicly claimed that the rising death toll civilians attributable to the U.S./Mexican drug war “a signpost of the success” of U.S. prohibitionist policies.

    UPDATE: Director Kerlikowske will appear live tomorrow on WAMU, Wednesday, May 11, (likely in the first hour between 10-11am, eastern) on the Diane Rehm Show. Listeners can call (1-800-433-8850), email or Tweet their questions to the Drug Czar.

    Yet, given that national polls now indicate that an estimated one out of two Americans nationwide support legalization, and that a solid majority of west coast voters and Californians back regulating the retail production and distribution of pot like alcohol, it seems politically counterproductive for the administration to maintain such a ‘flat Earth’ policy. So what could possibly be their reasoning?

    It’s actually spelled out here, in the White House’s 2010 Drug Control Strategy:

    We have many proven methods for reducing the demand for drugs. Keeping drugs illegal reduces their availability and lessens willingness to use them. That is why this Administration firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other illicit drug. Legalizing drugs would increase accessibility and encourage promotion and acceptance of use. Diagnostic, laboratory, clinical, and epidemiological studies clearly indicate that marijuana use is associated with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects, and legalization would only exacerbate these problems.

    There it is in black and white — in less than 100 words: The federal government’s entire justification for marijuana prohibition; their entire justification for a policy that has led to the arrest of over 20 million Americans since 1965, that is responsible for allowing cops to terrorize families and kill their pets, that has stripped hundreds of thousands of young people of their ability to pursue higher education, and that is directly responsible for the deaths of over 20,000 civilians on the U.S./Mexico border. And that’s just for starters.

    Yet the entire premise for maintaining the government’s policy — that keeping marijuana criminally prohibited “reduces [its] availability and lessens willingness to use [it]” — is demonstrably false. Under present prohibition, more than 1/3 of 8th graders, more than 2/3rds of 10th graders, and some 85 percent of 12th graders say that marijuana is “easy to get.” Even according to the stridently prohibitionist group CASA (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University), more teens say that they can get their hands on pot than booze, and one-quarter say that they can buy marijuana within the hour. That means, President Obama and Gil Kerlikowske, that 25 percent of teens can obtain marijuana as easily — and as quickly — as a Domino’s pizza!

    This is your “proven” method for “reducing availability?” Don’t make us laugh.

    By contrast, dozens of studies from around the globe have established, consistently, that marijuana liberalization will result in lower overall drug use. For example, no less than the World Health Organization concluded:

    “Globally, drug use is not distributed evenly, and is simply not related to drug policy. … The U.S. … stands out with higher levels of use of alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis, despite punitive illegal drug policies. … The Netherlands, with a less criminally punitive approach to cannabis use than the U.S., has experienced lower levels of use, particularly among younger adults. Clearly, by itself, a punitive policy towards possession and use accounts for limited variation in national rates of illegal drug use.”

    In fact, NORML has an entire white paper devoted to addressing this issue here.

    Of course, the best option to truly reduce youth availability to cannabis is legalization and regulation. This strategy — the same one that we employ for the use of virtually every other product except cannabis — would impose common sense controls regarding who can legally produce marijuana, who can legally distribute marijuana, who can legally consume marijuana, and where adults can legally use marijuana and under what circumstances is such use legally permitted.

    But we already know that this option isn’t in the administration’s vocabulary, now don’t we?

    I’ve written time and time again that this administration ought to view marijuana legalization as a political opportunity, not a political liability. They obviously aren’t listening. Nevertheless, it is the voters who have led — and will continue to lead — on this issue, and it is the politicians who will follow. Could we expect it to be any other way?

    After all it was the federal government that followed the states lead in 1937 — federally criminalizing pot, but only doing so after virtually every state in the nation had already done so. California, for instance, outlawed marijuana use in 1913 — nearly a quarter of a century before the Feds acted similarly. Likewise, it is going to be the states — and California in particular — that are going to usher in the era of re-legalization.

    And it will be the Feds who eventually will have no other choice but to fall in line.

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