US health agency makes history and admits cannabis is used medicinally

Cannabis has medicinal benefits and is less addictive than comparable drugs, a US health agency admitted today, likely for the first time, in newly released documents published on Substack, X and Marijuana Moment.

The long road to federal legalization took another step forward with the release of the United States Health and Human Services Agency document. According to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act and requested by Matt Zorn, on August 23, the US HHS recommended that the Justice Department's Drug Enforcement Administration (PDF) reclassify cannabis on the government's list of dangerous drugs 1 next to heroin up to 3rd place next to the sedative ketamine or the painkiller codeine.

This process of reorganization is called replanning. Lawmakers added marijuana to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970s, surpassing the opinion of medical experts. Today, over 90% of Americans support the medical legalization of marijuana.

On October 6, President Biden asked HHS to review cannabis planning, which led to the August recommendation to the DOJ. The DEA has not indicated when it will act on the HHS recommendation.


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The core of a planning review consists of two pillars: medical benefits and potential for abuse. In the past, the federal government had determined that marijuana had no medical use and that there was a high potential for abuse. This is no longer a tenable position.

The HHS concludes:

“Considering the eight factors that determine control of a substance (21 USC 811(c)), FDA recommends moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the CSA. NIDA agrees with this planning recommendation. Marijuana meets the three criteria for listing a substance in Schedule III of the CSA as set forth in 21 USC 812(b)(3).”

  • “Marijuana has a lower potential for abuse than the drugs or other substances in Schedules I and II.”
  • “Marijuana currently has an accepted medical treatment use in the United States.”
  • “Marijuana abuse can result in moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.”

For medical use

The 2023 HHS review found that cannabis is used extensively medicinally in the 40+ states with medical cannabis laws:

More than 30,000 health care providers are authorized to recommend marijuana use to more than six million registered patients. This represents a comprehensive clinical experience related to various medical conditions that is recognized by a significant number of jurisdictions in the United States.

US HHS August 2023

“More than 30,000 HCPs are authorized to recommend marijuana use to more than six million enrolled patients, representing a comprehensive clinical experience related to various medical conditions that is recognized by a significant number of jurisdictions in the United States.”

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Finally, the HHS writes:

“Based on the totality of the available data, we conclude that there is credible scientific support for the medical use of marijuana in at least one of the indications for which there is currently widespread experience in the United States.”

About potential for abuse

The HHS review found that most people who use cannabis do so safely, unlike far deadlier and less restricted drugs.

According to HHS, “There is also evidence that the vast majority of individuals who use marijuana do so in ways that do not cause dangerous consequences to themselves or others.”

“Although marijuana abuse provides clear evidence of harmful consequences, these appear to be relatively less frequent and less severe than some other comparable drugs.”

Marijuana is in the “lowest ranking” for “serious medical outcomes, including death, observed in the Poison Center data,” the HHS noted.

When it comes to overdose deaths, marijuana always ranks lowest among comparable drugs.

US HHS August 2023

“The public health risks posed by marijuana are lower compared to other drugs (e.g., heroin, oxycodone, cocaine), based on an evaluation of various epidemiological databases for emergency room visits, hospitalizations, accidental exposures, etc Overdose deaths.”

“When it comes to overdose deaths, marijuana is always at the bottom of the comparison drugs.”

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