WHO Announces Scientific Consensus on Medical Cannabis

Contact: Debbie Churgai, [email protected] 240.893.2153


World Health Organization Announces Scientific Consensus on Medical Cannabis

Medical Cannabis Policy Now in the Hands of UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

World Health Org logo

Geneva, Switzerland -- In an historic statement published today, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that cannabis and cannabis resin be removed from Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This would represent a major step forward in the medical use of cannabis worldwide since no government, including the U.S., can now refer to international treaty obligations as a reason for prohibition of the medical use of cannabis. Moreover, in line with the provisions of the Single Convention, governments would now be obliged to ensure the adequate availability of cannabis for the relief of pain and suffering of patients in their countries.

Schedule IV of the Single Convention contains narcotic drugs that are considered particularly dangerous and without any therapeutic importance. Cannabis and cannabis resin were included in this schedule at the time of the adoption of the Single Convention in 1961. Governments are encouraged by the Single Convention to prohibit production, distribution, and use of drugs in this Schedule.

The original decision to include cannabis and cannabis resin in Schedule IV of the Single Convention was due to a politically motivated biased approach to cannabis in some Western countries, in particular the United States, and not on scientific grounds as required in this convention. In the following decades, patients around the world found cannabis useful in treating their ailments, but they were prevented from legal access to this medicine due to prohibitive laws in their countries based on the provisions of the Single Convention for drugs in Schedule IV.

The determination of patients to fight for legal access to medical cannabis and the quickly increasing amount of scientific evidence confirming its medical usefulness have led, since the 1990s, to the establishment of medical cannabis programs in many countries. However, the vast majority of patients around the world have continuously been prevented from the legal access to this medicine. The advocates of medical use of cannabis, both patients and scientists, were repeatedly requesting WHO to fulfill its mandate under the Single Convention and carry out a scientific review of cannabis to fairly evaluate its therapeutic usefulness in order to propose correction of its status under the Single Convention.

In March 2016, a group of world-renowned cannabis experts, convened by Americans for Safe Access, submitted to WHO a comprehensive document proving the medical usefulness of cannabis and structured strictly in line with the WHO. Following that, in November 2016, WHO agreed to carry out a review of cannabis and its derivatives. This review process took place in several stages and was finalized today with the issuance of the these recommendations to the UN Committee on Narcotic Drugs.

“We are extremely pleased that the World Health Organization has finally recognized the therapeutic potential of cannabis and its derivatives as a safe and effective medicine. With an international rescheduling or descheduling of cannabis, the U.S. government can no longer use the excuse that cannabis has no medical value.” said Steph Sherer, President and Founder of Americans for Safe Access. “It is now incumbent that our government change legislation at the federal level to eliminate barriers to research and access for patients throughout the country. It is time our government stepped up to provide relief for patients that have been suffering for years throughout the U.S.”

In addition, the WHO made recommendations to reschedule dronabinol and other THC isomers from the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances to the Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.

Furthermore, the WHO recommended adding some cannabis and THC preparations to Schedule III of the 1961 Convention, which would exempt them from many control measures and facilitate patient access to them. The WHO also recommended that the CND confirm that CBD preparations containing not more than 0.02% of THC are not under international control. None of these modifications would change the prohibition of cannabis and THC for recreational purposes.

“These recommendations were inevitable, and their adoptions by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs would enhance public health globally,” stated Dr. Pavel Pachta, ICCI’s International Regulatory Affairs Director and former Deputy Secretary of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). “We do not expect that the CND would vote against these recommendations as they come from scientific experts and are based on rigorous scientific review.”

In line with the provisions of the Single Convention, this recommendation of WHO will now be put to a vote during the 62nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which will meet in Vienna, Austria, in March 2019. Fifty-three nations are members of this commission. A simple majority of the members present and voting is required to approve the recommendation by WHO.

“It is gratifying that the World Health Organization has recognized the scientific fact that cannabis and its derivatives have demonstrable therapeutic properties and can be the base for safe and effective medicines. It is now incumbent upon governments of the USA and other nations to eliminate the barriers to research on cannabis and allow its free commerce across state lines and international frontiers” stated Ethan Russo, MD, a neurologist and Director of Research and Development of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI).

A video of Dr. Russo and Dr. Pachta discussing the implications of this announcement can be found here.

Full letter from WHO to CND can be found here.


Steph Sherer

Steph Sherer is a founder and Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), founding member of International Medical Cannabis Patients Coalition (IMCPC). She has become the foremost international leader and expert on medical cannabis patient advocacy and, alongside the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) Steph has created the first industry standards in the areas of Distribution, Cultivation, Analytics, and Manufacturing, Packaging, and Labeling.

Ethan Russo, MD

Ethan Russo, MD, is a Director of Research and Development of ICCI, board-certified neurologist, psychopharmacology researcher, and former Senior Medical Advisor to GW Pharmaceuticals. He served as study physician to GW Pharmaceutical for three Phase III clinical trials of Sativex, physician and medical monitor for early studies of Epidiolex. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (Psychology) and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, before residencies in Pediatrics in Phoenix, Arizona and in Child and Adult Neurology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He was a clinical neurologist in Missoula, Montana for 20 years in practice with a strong chronic pain component.

Dr. Pavel Pachta

Dr. Pavel Pachta is ICCI’s International Regulatory Affairs Director.  As former Deputy Secretary of the International Narcotics Control Board and former Chief of the Narcotics Control and Estimates Section at UNODC, he offers a unique perspective on medical cannabis laws and regulations. Dr. Pachta has been a frequent contributor on UN and WHO publications.