A compound found in the cannabis plant is not harmful, has health benefits, and does not have abuse potential, experts at the World Health Organization say.
The WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence focused on cannabidiol, or CBD, one of the naturally occurring cannabinoids found in cannabis plants.
After reviewing evidence from animal and human studies, the committee concludes that “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential.”
The experts produced the report in November, while the WHO announced its conclusions this week. In May, the committee will study cannabis and cannabis-related substances more fully.
Other major studies have shown marijuana and its products can relieve pain, nausea related to cancer treatment, and multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms. But using cannabis has well-known short-term and long-term health effects, such as learning and coordination problems.
Because federal law makes it a crime to have marijuana and CBD, researchers must pass strict government scrutiny just to study its usefulness.
DEA View of CBD
The conclusion of the WHO flies in the face of the view of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It says that CBD must be treated the same as THC and other cannabinoids from a cannabis plant, and it should remain a Schedule I drug.
Marijuana advocates applauded the WHO’s conclusion. “It was terrific to see WHO acknowledge what other scientific research has already stated,” says Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
In an email statement, he adds: “While we are pleased to see the WHO finally acknowledge that absurdity of international restrictions, the continued domestic classification and criminalization of cannabidiol as a Schedule I controlled substance is out of step with both available science and common sense. It is yet another example of the U.S. government placing ideology over evidence when it comes to issues related to the cannabis plant.”
Scott Chipman, Southern California chairman of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana (CALM), took issue with the report.
“We need to maintain a strict scientific perspective and protocols when it comes to new drugs,” he says. “We need double-blind studies related to marijuana and all components, research on the harms versus the benefits, identification of the side effects and specific ailments identified through these studies – even for CBD,” he says.
He says some ongoing drug studies of CBD do show promise in treating seizure disorders, but he also sees potential problems with the drugs, along with concerns about contamination and other potential harms with over-the-counter products.
What Is Medical Marijuana?
Medical marijuana is any part of the marijuana plant that you use to treat health problems. People use it to get relief from their symptoms, not to try to get high.
Most marijuana that’s sold legally as medicine has the same ingredients as the kind that people use for pleasure. But some medical marijuana is specially grown to have less of the chemicals that cause feelings of euphoria.
The experts also say that CBD might be able to treat epilepsy (where most research has focused), although results are mixed. Other conditions it might treat are Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, anxiety, depression, and other maladies. CBD may ease inflammation, provide antioxidants, and relieve pain.
Based on its research, the committee concluded that current information does not call for scheduling of the drug. In the U.S., CBD is a Schedule 1 controlled substance. These are defined as drugs with no medical use and likely to be abused.
Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes. Other states, including Georgia, have legalized the possession of CBD to treat specific disorders.
It remains a federal crime, however, to have or sell any form of marijuana, including CBD. Despite those federal regulations, CBD is an ingredient in popular products sold over the counter as oils, extracts, supplements, and gum to treat many ailments.
CBD usually is given as a capsule or dissolved in liquid to be taken orally, under the tongue, or as a nasal spray. CBD does not produce the high that another cannabinoid – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) -does, experts say. In fact, CBD appears to have effects opposite of THC.
The WHO announcement drew a positive response from marijuana advocates and criticism from those who don’t want it to be legal.
World Health Organization: Cannabidiol (CBD) Pre-Review Report, Expert Committee on Drug Dependence Thirty-ninth Meeting, Geneva, Switzerland, Nov. 6-10, 2017.
Scott Chipman, Southern California chairman, Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana (CALM).
Justin Strekal, political director, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Governing: “State Marijuana Laws in 2017 Map.”
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: “Nearly 100 Conclusions on the Health Effects of Marijuana and Cannabis-Derived Products Presented in New Report; One of the Most Comprehensive Studies of Recent Research on Health Effects of Recreational and Therapeutic Use of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products.”