Originally published Friday, February 9, 2018 at 05:59a.m.
Drugs, substances, and certain chemicals used to make drugs are classified into five distinct categories or schedules depending upon the drug’s acceptable medical use and the drug’s abuse or dependency potential.
Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. Schedule III drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. Schedule IV drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence. Schedule V drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and consist of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics. Schedule V drugs are generally used for antidiarrheal, antitussive, and analgesic purposes.
So, where does cannabis, commonly called marijuana, fall? Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, that means marijuana is in the same schedule as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, methaqualone and peyote.
Meanwhile, meth, which is considered one of the most addictive and psychologically damaging drugs, is classified a step ABOVE cannabis. To quote the DEA’s schedule classification, meth use only “potentially lead(s) to severe or psychological or physical dependence.”
What happens when someone smokes or ingests cannabis? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the NIH, when marijuana is smoked, THC and other chemicals in the plant pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, which rapidly carries them throughout the body to the brain. Many people experience a pleasant euphoria and sense of relaxation. Other common effects, include heightened sensory perception, laughter, altered perception of time, and increased appetite.
Pleasant experiences with marijuana are by no means universal. Instead of relaxation and euphoria, some people experience anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic. These effects are more common when a person takes too much, the marijuana has an unexpectedly high THC-potency, or the person is an inexperienced marijuana user.
Although detectable amounts of THC may remain in the body for days or even weeks after use, the noticeable effects of smoked marijuana generally last from 1 to 3 hours, and those of marijuana consumed in food or drink may last for many hours.
Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, has expressed interest in what science will learn about marijuana, noting that preliminary data show that “for certain medical conditions and symptoms” it can be “helpful.”In 29 states, including Arizona, and the District of Columbia, cannabis is legal for some medical uses, and a majority of Americans favor legalization for recreational use. Other countries have also voted on the issue. Uruguay has voted to legalize it, while Portugal has decriminalized it. Israel, Canada, and the Netherlands have medical marijuana programs.
Israel has one of the world’s most advanced medical marijuana programs. Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli chemist who is considered the patriarch of cannabis science, played an active role in setting it up. More than 20,000 patients have a license to use cannabis to treat such conditions as glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, inflammation, appetite loss, Tourette’s syndrome, and asthma.
Despite that, Mechoulam is not particularly in favor of legalizing cannabis for recreational use, as it is “not an innocuous substance.” He cites studies showing that the prolonged use of high-THC strains of marijuana can change the way the developing brain grows. He points to studies that suggest cannabis may trigger the onset of schizophrenia among those who have a genetic predisposition to the disease.
Note that this chemist is saying development of schizophrenia can only POSSIBLY occur if someone already has a GENETIC PREDISPOSITION to the disease. Cannabis doesn’t inherently cause mental disorders, and as the NIH points out, the anxious effects some people experience are temporary and distinct from actual mental disorders.
There are thousands of articles for and against the effects of marijuana as well as for or against the legalization of marijuana, so a consensus of marijuana legalization will most likely never be reached, especially at a federal level. That being said, if beliefs and laws about heroin, which used to have an accepted medical use, can change, it’s only fair that marijuana receives the same analytical treatment.