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World Health Organization Reviews International Cannabis Laws

A WHO committee released a pre-review of their research on the medical benefits and safety of marijuana, including several positive findings that may help usher in a new era of global cannabis reform.

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As a steadily growing number of countries and U.S. states pass legalize medical and recreational cannabis use, the United Nations has decided to take a fresh look at international drug laws, which currently prohibit cannabis in any form. This week, a World Health Organization (WHO) committee released a pre-review of their research on the plant, which includes several positive findings that may help usher in a new era of global cannabis reform.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began soliciting public commentary on whether the agency should maintain its classification of cannabis as a dangerous drug with no medical value. Cannabis advocacy group NORML collected 10,000 public comments in favor of cannabis and hand-delivered them to the agency, ensuring that the majority of public commentary was in favor of ending marijuana prohibition.

The FDA forwarded these comments on to the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, which is evaluating whether the current international laws prohibiting marijuana should be upheld or altered. The organization has already acknowledged that CBD is a low-risk and medically-useful drug, but the pre-review also contains a number of optimistic conclusions related to the safety and medical use of cannabis, generally.

The commission examined current research on marijuana as an effective treatment for chronic pain, appetite stimulation, epilepsy, opioid withdrawal, PTSD, and sleep disorders. The WHO also cited a "wealth of preclinical literature" reporting that cannabinoids "reduce cancer cell proliferation" and inhibit "cancer cell migration and angiogenesis in numerous cancer cell types," Marijuana Moment reports.

Overall, the organization found that there is growing evidence that cannabis has "some therapeutic potential" to treat these conditions, though the current body of clinical research is not conclusive enough for them to make a final determination about the efficacy of cannabis for all of these ailments.

The international prohibition of cannabis has made it difficult to research the benefits and risks of the drug, and many studies are inconclusive and tentative as a result. Cannabis activist Michael Krawitz told Marijuana Moment that the pre-review did not include sufficient evidence to support medical cannabis. Krawitz explained that this issue was due to the "creeping slow nature of the international bodies."

The pre-review, which will be officially revealed next week, also re-evaluates the risk of cannabis use, concluding that marijuana is a "relatively safe drug" that has never caused an overdose death. The report does warn of the possibility of acute side-effects, including short-term memory impairment, as well as potential risks for adolescents' cognitive development. The WHO pre-review also warns of impaired motor coordination, which could potentially lead to traffic accidents and altered judgement.

If this pre-review is accepted by the international organization, it could pave the way for a more comprehensive review, including expert testimony and debate. The additional research would be presented before the committee, which in turn could make a recommendation to UN Secretary-General António Guterres to change international cannabis laws. Guterres, as Prime Minister of Portugal, has seen the positive effects of his country's decision to decriminalize all drugs first-hand, and is hence likely to support cannabis reform.