Karen Berger, PharmD, Medical Writer
Do you or someone you know struggle with opioid use disorder? Chances are, at some point, you or someone you know has struggled with an addiction to opioids. One of the topics that we consistently discuss here at MyCureAll is the opioid epidemic. The CDC reports that over 67,000 people in the United States died in 2018 from opioids, an increase of 4% from 2017. With COVID-19 causing an increase in opioid use, these numbers will most likely continue to climb. However, while opioids are responsible for thousands of deaths every year, it is very unlikely to have a fatal overdose from cannabis. Sure, you may overdo it and have some symptoms which may even be severe, but you are unlikely to die from medical marijuana (as long as you don’t drive!)
So why are we talking about this? Well, for many years, cannabis was classified as a Schedule I Drug by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). Let’s do a quick overview of the DEA Scheduling system. This system categorizes drugs based on the potential for abuse and dependence.
Schedule I drugs are those with no currently accepted medical use, as well as a high potential for abuse. Examples include heroin, LSD,cannabis, and peyote. Schedule I drugs cannot be prescribed by a doctor, and cannot be found in a pharmacy.
- Schedule II drugs are prescription medications with a high potential for abuse and are considered dangerous. Examples include Vicodin, OxyContin, oxycodone, Percocet, Adderall, and Ritalin.
- Schedule III drugs are prescription medications with a moderate to low potential for dependence and include drugs such as Tylenol with codeine, testosterone, and anabolic steroids.
- Schedule IV drugs are prescription medications with a low potential for abuse and dependence and include drugs like Xanax, Valium, and Ambien.
- Schedule V drugs have a lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV drugs. Some examples include the anti diarrhea medication Lomotil, and certain cough medications.
What does it mean?
No currently accepted medical use; high potential for abuse
Heroin, LSD, marijuana, peyote
Dangerous; high potential for abuse
Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin, oxycodone, Adderall, Ritalin
Moderate to low potential for dependence
Tylenol with codeine, testosterone, anabolic steroids
Low potential for abuse and dependence
Xanax, Valium, Ambien
Lower potential for abuse and dependence than Schedule IV
Lomotil, codeine-containing cough medications
So, the Schedule I drugs are considered the most dangerous and have no accepted medical use. But they include cannabis, which is effective for many patients, for a number of medical conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, Crohn’s disease, Lyme disease, and opioid use disorder, to name just a few.
The Schedule II drugs include high risk opioids like Percocet and Oxycontin, meaning they have an accepted use (are legal) and are considered less dangerous than the Schedule I drugs.
But we know that opioids are far more addictive and dangerous than cannabis – so why is cannabis placed in the highest level of control drugs? It doesn’t really make sense. Leafly reports on an interesting lawsuit.
In May, Sue Sisley of the Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) in Arizona, along with 3 military veterans, filed a legal action against the DEA. Sisley is a medical doctor who has studied the benefits of using cannabis to treat veterans who suffer from PTSD. A press release from the SRI states that the DEA has “applied the wrong legal standard in determining whether a drug has currently accepted medical use.” The statement describes a catch-22 situation—medical cannabis is in Schedule I because it hasn’t been studied, but studies can’t be done because it is a Schedule I drug. Sisley wants trials to be conducted with the whole flower, as opposed to the US government-grown cannabis, which she says is low quality and low potency. The lawsuit is asking for a review of the DEA’s interpretation of the phrase that cannabis has no currently accepted medical use. The lawsuit is expected to go to trial in August.
Another similar case would be Epidiolex, made by GW Pharmaceuticals. Epidiolex is the first and only FDA-approved medical cannabis. It contains the active ingredient cannabidiol and is used to treat seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome in patients 2 years of age and older. In September 2018, the DEA reclassified Epidiolex as a Schedule V drug. On April 6, 2020, the DEA removed the controlled substance classification from Epidiolex, making it a non-controlled drug. Acknowledging Epidiolex as a non-controlled medication is an important step in recognizing that cannabis has medical benefits.
What do you think? Should cannabis move to Schedule II? At MyCureAll, we appreciate the wide benefits of medical cannabis for many different medical conditions. We know that cannabis is very safe, especially when compared to opioids. Research indicates that medicinal cannabis and more precisely, the endocannabinoid system (ECS), has properties that replicate opioid neurotransmitters, and hence is a credible supplement or primary agonist opioid treatment (AOT). We know that patients are very unlikely to die from cannabis. We believe that cannabis
absolutely should move to a Schedule II, reflecting its very important medical use, and hopefully paving the way for insurances to recognize this and start routinely paying for medical cannabis for any patient who needs it.
Sign our petition to get medical cannabis covered by insurance. Check out MyCureAll’s revolutionary Canna-Meter, which gives you a unique cannabis experience, helping you save time and money. And if you are looking for CBD products such as CBD oil or topicals, check out our Shopify store.