Will The WHO Deregulate Cannabis?

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Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, is just one of hundreds of naturally occurring compounds found within cannabis. That’s right, weed’s lesser known cousin; a non-psychoactive ingredient derived directly from the hemp plant. Its legality and use by mainstream society is perhaps the hottest topic among health authorities and consumer regulators around the world today. Why is this? Well, because until recently CBD’s close association with its psychoactive counterpart THT (the compound within cannabis that gets users ‘high’) saw it shunned as a mainstream panacea, despite its many myriad health benefits. 

Never mind its ability to soothe chronic pain and ease debilitating conditions for cancer patients, never mind that it has the power to treat muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, to reduce epilepsy attacks for longtime sufferers, to lessen the nausea experienced by those who have undergone chemotherapy. Never mind it has been proven to treat Crohn’s disease, anxiety and depression – legislation until now has said it is a bad drug, and so potential users have rejected it. 

But when U.S. President Trump signed the Farm Bill into law in December 2018, effectively legalizing the production of hemp, the CBD floodgates opened – in the U.S. at least. Today, the $22 billion industry is expanding at a pace rarely-before-seen and U.S. farmers are struggling to keep up with the demand for industrial hemp. And so all eyes have turned toward the world’s leading authority on international conventions on drug control to see whether it will be a thumbs up, or a resounding no, in respects to CBD-related products. 

In January this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) gave a small clue as to their take on CBD by issuing a recommendation that marijuana and its key components be formally rescheduled under international drug treaties. A team of leading health experts advised that cannabis resin and whole-plant marijuana be removed from what is currently the most restrictive category of the current drug convention agreed upon by countries from all over the world. It also emphasised that products containing less than 0.2 per cent THC are in fact not ‘under international control’ at all. The WHO based its recommendations on an unprecedented earlier scientific assessment of all things cannabis-related – an assessment which proved that the use of cannabis in certain forms was not addictive and that CBD does not have psychoactive properties.

What does this all mean? Have the WHO then, effectively, moved to deregulate cannabis? We won’t know for sure until March 2020, when the United Nations will gather to officially vote on whether it will terminate the half-Century of Treaty ban on cannabis. The consequences of the vote could be enormous; if in favour, it could pave the way for academics, researchers and scientists to study the plant and its many properties, and mean much-needed relief for chronic suffers worldwide who could soon be using CBD oil for pain. If the majority votes no, it will do little to reduce the stigma that already surrounds the cannabis component.

CBD has already crept its way from the periphery of mainstream society to the very epicentre of the consumer world, but boy does it still have some way to go before it is properly understood and appreciated for its myriad health benefits. Not only can it act as an anti-inflammatory, antiemetic, antispasmodic agent, it can also treat chronic pain, nausea, inflammatory bowel disease, migraines and nicotine addiction. Not bad for a naturally occurring element. But before its magical properties can benefit society, it must first get the tick of approval by the WHO.

What’s interesting is that this isn’t the first time the world’s authorities have deliberated over whether or not a substance should be considered legal or illegal for mainstream use. Some of the world’s most notorious drugs – from heroin to LSD to methamphetamine – were once not only legal but found in many pharmaceutical products and normal household goods. Meth was widely prescribed as a diet supplement in the 1950s, heroin was once used in children’s cough remedies and cocaine was used to treat stomach aches and butter one’s toast, infused delicately into margarine. Insane, right? Apparently global beverage giant Coca Cola used cocaine in its drinks in high doses until 1903. Even today, it still uses coca leaves to manufacture its namesake, but it first removes the cocaine and the process is “all highly regulated by the authorities”. 

It makes me wonder. Will we look back in 100 years in complete and utter disbelief thinking about that one time we legalised hemp for use by mainstream society? Or will we look back in profound disappointment that we didn’t legalise it sooner, in consideration of the hundreds of thousands of sufferers who might have benefited from its healing properties had it been deregulated during their lifetime.

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