US health officials acknowledge 'medical use’ of cannabis

Liz Filmer
01 Feb 2024

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released documents which establish its recommendation that cannabis be rescheduled under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). 

The rescheduling means that cannabis would no longer be classed as a ‘high risk’ Schedule I drug such as heroin, LSD and ecstasy which are defined as substances with ‘no currently accepted medical use and high potential for abuse’. 

A litigation over an Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) brought by US lawyer Matthew Zorn, has seen the release of over 250 documents that substantiate that federal health officials acknowledge the fact that cannabis has ‘accepted medical use’ and that its prospect for abuse is ‘less than the drugs or other substances in Schedules I and II’.

The documents also highlight the fact that thousands of doctors are presently recommending medical cannabis to more than six million registered patients in 43 states and that there is ‘considerable evidence in favour of its effectiveness’ in the treatment of various health conditions.

The decision was founded on the HHS's assessment of the following points:

  1. Cannabis’s actual or relative potential for abuse;
  2. Scientific evidence of its pharmacological effect, if known;
  3. The state of current scientific knowledge regarding the drug or other substance;
  4. Its history and current pattern of abuse;
  5. The scope, duration, and significance of abuse;
  6. What, if any, risk there is to the public health;
  7. Its psychic or physiological dependence liability
  8. Whether it is an immediate precursor of a substance already controlled.

The documents reveal that both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) concur with the HHS recommendation. 

Any further decisions are in the hands of the DEA which will make a submission based on its own five-factor analysis. 

 DEA officials confirmed in January that it is in the process of conducting its review, telling congress that it has the ‘final authority’ on any scheduling judgment. 

“It is significant for these health agencies to acknowledge publicly, for the first time, what many patients and advocates have known for decades: that cannabis is a safe and effective therapeutic agent for tens of millions of Americans.” -Deputy Director of US NORML, Paul Armentano

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Liz Filmer