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World Health Organisation Submits Recommendations for the Rescheduling of Cannabis

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended the rescheduling of cannabis under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (the Single Convention).

If adopted, these recommendations could have significant global impacts. For Australia, these include:

  • Removal of CBD from the Single Convention
  • Defining CBD as <0.2% THC
  • Placing pharmaceutical preparations into Schedule III

On 31 July, the WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) submitted their recommendations on cannabis scheduling to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND).

These recommendations (summarised below) are to be reviewed at the next CND meeting:

  1. Cannabis and cannabis resin: to be deleted from Schedule IV* of the Single Convention.
  2. Extracts and Tinctures: to be deleted from Schedule I of the Single Convention.
  3. Dronabinol: to be deleted from the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and added to Schedule I of the Single Convention.
  4. Tetrahydrocannabinol: to be deleted from the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and added to Schedule I of the Single Convention.
  5. Cannabidiol: Footnote to be added – “Preparations containing predominantly CBD and not more than 0.2% THC are not under international control.”
  6. Pharmaceutical Preparations: If containing delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, produced either by chemical synthesis or as a preparation of cannabis, and compounded as pharmaceutical preparations in such a way that the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol cannot be recovered by readily available means or in a yield that would constitute a risk to public health, to be added to Schedule III of the Single Convention.

* The Schedules range from most to least restrictive in this order: Schedule IV, Schedule I, Schedule II, Schedule III.

By removing cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV and placing into Schedule I, the ECDD has acknowledged the potential for its therapeutic benefits.

The removal of CBD from the Single Convention is probably the most significant outcome of these recommendations. The ECDD states that it has no psychoactive properties, no potential for abuse or dependence, no significant side effects, and has shown to have effective therapeutic benefits.

As territories such as the USA are approving its use, CBD’s removal from the Single Convention paves the way for broader use and international trade.

However, the ECDD also recommends that preparations of CBD be defined as having no more than 0.2% THC. If this recommendation is adopted, it may be used to justify one of two consequences in Australia:

  1. Removal of CBD from the Narcotic Drugs Act altogether, and redefining it elsewhere. For example, the USA regulates CBD as a food product; or
  2. Redefining CBD in the Narcotic Drugs Act has containing no more than 0.2% THC.

Currently, the Narcotic Drugs Act defines CBD has no more than 2% THC of total cannabinoid content, so such a re-definition could have significant impacts on patient access.

However, the final recommendation – to classify pharmaceutical preparations into Schedule III of the Single Convention, would also have significant impacts on the Australian medicinal cannabis industry.

Schedule III of the Single Convention are subject to a much less strict regime, namely that Government authorisations are not required for each import and export.

While this may seem a small detail, it drastically reduces the amount of bureaucracy and red tape required for the import and export of medicinal cannabis to and from Australia.

The Single Convention is what many governments point to as justification for the extremely strict controls on medicinal cannabis, its cultivation, and access. These recommendations will contribute to the steady international change in attitude towards cannabis.

The CND next meets in March 2019, so a decision to formalise these recommendations is not far away.

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Blaise Bratter
Blaise Bratter is the Chief Contributor to CannabisIntel. Being involved in the Australian cannabis industry since legalisation in 2016, he is now Operations Manager for ASX listed company MGC Pharmaceuticals.

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