The United Nations may be heading toward a vote to change its prohibition of marijuana as set forth in the 1961 Convention.

In 1998, the General Assembly approved a plan to make the world drug free in ten years, adopting the slogan “A drug free world—we can do it!” Twenty years later (and ten years after the world did not become drug free), for the first time in the organization’s history, the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD), which is part of the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO), met in a special session to conduct a pre-review of “cannabis and cannabis-related substances.” A pre-review is a first step in a fact-finding process that can lead to a recommendation to the general assembly for a change in policy.

The substances reviewed were: the cannabis plant and resin, extracts and tinctures, CBD, and THC. The committee has published a report of its findings. According to the report:

  • “Cannabis is a relatively safe drug, which is not associated with acute fatal overdoses.”
  • “[S]tudies do support anti-inflammatory effects.”
  • “Studies assessing the effects of cannabis in immunocompromised HIV patients have not demonstrated any clinically meaningful adverse effects on immune function.”
  • “A wealth of preclinical literature demonstrates that cannabinoids reduce cancer cell proliferation.”

The report also mentions adverse effects:

  • “Acute cannabis use impairs certain types of cognitive function and can interfere with attention, learning and memory.”
  • “There is strong population-based evidence that illicit cannabis smoking during pregnancy reduces the birthweight of offspring.”
  • “There is an array of evidence to support the idea that people driving under the influence of cannabis are more likely to be involved in a car accident…although the level of risk is generally not as great as with alcohol.”
  • “There are several recent case reports of young children accidentally ingesting cannabis and experiencing respiratory depression, tachycardia and temporary coma.”

The pre-review also summarizes the therapeutic use of the cannabis plant and cannabis resin. The report says that, according to surveys, “the five medical conditions for which cannabinoids were most often used as treatment were back pain, sleep disorders, depression, post-injury pain and multiple sclerosis.”

Regarding pain, the study reports that “Many randomized, controlled clinical trials have shown cannabis to be an effective analgesic.” Furthermore: “Three randomized controlled trials have shown smoked cannabis to be an effective treatment for neuropathic pain.” Regarding sleep, the report concludes:

Two of these studies assessed smoked cannabis and found that it was more likely than a placebo to improve sleep. while many patients report that cannabis improves their sleep…cannabis has also been shown to reduce REM sleep in a fashion similar to alcohol. Therefore, the quality of sleep achieved with cannabis may be poor.

The report on the plant and resin does not mention any studies of the effectiveness of cannabis in treating depression.

Extracts and Tinctures

The pre-report also reviews the medical literature regarding extracts and tinctures, which includes CBD. The findings:

  • “Extracts containing THC, CBD, and THC and CBD in a 1:1 ratio produced a significant reduction in neurogenic symptoms including bladder control, muscle spasms, and spasticity in a series of randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover studies in 24 patients with chronic medical illnesses…associated with neurogenic symptoms.” The majority of the patients had multiple sclerosis.
  • “[C]onsiderable evidence base shows that cannabis and specific cannabinoids are effective pharmacotherapy for nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy.”
  • Regarding depression: “There have been no studies of cannabis or cannabinoids with measures of depression as the primary outcome.”
  • The committee has also said that “There is no evidence of…any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”

While one U.N. committee has released a report confirming that cannabis and its products have medical use, another U.N. group, the International Narcotics Control Board, recently published a reminder to nations such as Canada and Uruguay that legalization is in violation of the 1961 Convention.

Ultimately, the goal for proponents is a vote of the General Assembly to modify or eliminate the 1961 Convention’s prohibition of marijuana. Before that can happen, however, the pre-report’s findings must be approved so that a Critical Review can be prepared. This may happen in November. In the meantime, the WHO has declared its support of delisting CBD as a controlled substance, citing its medical use.

What do you think? Will the U.N. vote to delist marijuana? Or just CBD? Leave a comment below.

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