Last weekend, three young people lost their lives from what appear to be drug overdoses while attending a rave in Fontana, CA. Sadly, this is becoming more and more prevalent, with the LA Times reporting that “Before this weekend, there have been at least 24 confirmed drug-related deaths nationwide since 2006 among people who went to raves…”.
Known as “club drugs”, there are an array of drugs that tend to be most popular amongst the (mostly young) rave scene attendees including Ecstasy (whose chemical name is 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as MDMA), and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). Both are listed as Schedule I drugs, which is defined as substances, or chemicals with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
What other drug shares this same classification? Cannabis.
In contrast to its companions on the Schedule I list of “the most dangerous drugs”, the annual death toll from marijuana overdoses remains steady – with exactly ZERO overdoses attributed to it.
In 2014, 17,465 people died from overdosing on illegal drugs. An even more sobering statistic? In that same year, 25,760 people were killed from overdosing on legal prescription drugs. Yes, drugs such as valium, oxycodone and other Schedule II drugs, that are classified as being less harmful or dangerous than cannabis.
Another drug that we all take for granted as being harmless is alcohol. Alcohol alone has been the cause of death for more than 30,700 Americans in 2014, not
including alcohol-related deaths such as drunk driving. If you include alcohol-related incidents, the number would be a whopping two and a half times higher.
American Scientist reports in 2006 that:
“Drinking a mere 10 times the normal amount of alcohol within 5 to 10 minutes can prove fatal, whereas smoking or eating marijuana might require something like 1,000 times the usual dose to cause death.”
It is almost impossible to overdose on cannabis because our bodies were made to ingest it. In fact, we have our own endo-cannabinoid system located in parts
of the brain and nervous system with receptors that bind with cannabinoids found in marijuana. Cannabinoid receptors, however, are not found in the brain stem, which controls breathing so there is no danger of cannabis affecting that essential process.
Not only is marijuana not harmful to the human body, research supports that it has numerous compounds and properties that are medically beneficial. Because of the cannabinoid receptors found in our bodies, we are able to accept cannabinoids found in marijuana with the result of numerous medicinal benefits. Since the known cannabis receptors, CB1 and CB2 are located in the parts of the brain and nervous system, when cannabinoids bind with these receptors, you have wide ranging results including effective treatment of anxiety, ALS, certain skin diseases, Parkinson’s, migraines, and more.
With cannabis classified as a Schedule I drug, however, it’s impossible to know all the benefits. Because it is deemed to have no medicinal properties, which we know to be highly false, research into cannabis has been devastatingly slow. The organization given the responsibility to research cannabis is the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an organization specifically created to research harmful effects of drugs. Although they’ve pledged to supply research-grade marijuana to researchers, this is not the organization we want pulling the majority of the weight on marijuana research. Watch a recent interview with Dr. Julie Holland on this topic here.
But NIDA is not the only organization with a stake in keeping marijuana a Schedule I substance. The pharmaceutical industry has a big stake in keeping cannabis out of the medical arena, as it is likely to take away from higher priced, more dangerous prescription drugs. Police unions also stand to lose if marijuana were removed from the Schedule I classification, as they receive federal funding from the War on Drugs.
While there are big players in the game working to keep cannabis classified as Schedule I, there may be hope in the upcoming November 8th elections. Both party nominees have expressed a desire to update the classification to reflect the facts of cannabis. However, the waters are still a bit murky. Democrats seem to be more on board with the federal downgrade of cannabis from a Schedule I classification. Most of the rhetoric on marijuana reforms, while a step in the right direction, has been largely about giving states the right to choose their cannabis laws instead of focusing on reform at the federal level.
The good news is that support for marijuana legalization is making headway in Congress. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act (CARERS) has 37 congressional supporters thus far. The passage of CARERS would mean rescheduling cannabis to a Schedule II substance, allowing for federally-funded cannabis research (outside of NIDA), and prohibit banking institutions from penalizing legal marijuana-related businesses, and more.
Reclassifying cannabis as a Schedule II substance is a step in the right direction, although it still does not entirely reflect the substance as the potential cure or healing it could be for many ailments. It would place the substance alongside other drugs such as hydromorphone, methadone, oxycodone, and fentanyl. These drugs, as Schedule II substances are deemed highly addictive. However, the benefit of moving cannabis to a Schedule II substance is the recognition of cannabis by the federal government as a medically viable drug. As the jury is still out on the addictiveness of marijuana, reclassifying as Schedule II would allow for more testing with the potential of rescheduling as a non-addictive substance in the future.
With the myriad medicinal benefits that have been found to be associated with cannabis, it makes no sense to continue to classify cannabis as Schedule I. More and more, public perception is changing about cannabis with the decriminalization of the substance in many states and its time that federal policy caught up.