The DEA just legalized a potentially-dangerous cocaine derivative while pushing back against repeated calls to acknowledge the medicinal use of cannabis.
In a new notice published in the Federal Register, DEA officials announced that they have removed [18 F]FP-CIT, a chemical derivative of cocaine, from the Controlled Substances Act. Researchers believe that this relatively unknown compound will help them accurately diagnose Parkinson's disease, and federal descheduling will make it easier for them to conduct the necessary research.
Federal law allows interested parties to petition the DEA to request the removal of any drug from the Controlled Substances Act. To do so, federal health officials must first conclude that the drug in question has little to no abuse potential. But in a recent review, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concluded that [18 F]FP-CIT “appears to be more potent than cocaine in some behavioral assessments” and “may potentially have abuse potential if the dose taken is high enough.”
Regardless of these risks, the HHS decided that this close relative of cocaine “does not conform with the findings for schedule II…or in any other schedule.” On this recommendation, the DEA has agreed to fully legalize it, removing “the regulatory controls and administrative, civil, and criminal sanctions applicable to controlled substances, including those specific to schedule II controlled substances.”
The feds solicited public commentary on their plans to legalize this drug last year, and several commenters used the opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of the feds' drug scheduling decisions. “One commenter opposed decontrol of [18F]FP-CIT, suggesting rescheduling cocaine, or any cocaine derivative, is a safety concern and such rescheduling would wrongly signal that cocaine is less harmful than cannabis,” the notice explains.
Indeed, the feds have always believed that cocaine is safer than cannabis. Cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug, a category reserved for addictive opioids and other dangerous drugs that still have some accepted medicinal use. Cannabis, on the other hand, is filed under Schedule I, a category of extremely dangerous drugs that have no medicinal use whatsoever – despite hundreds of clinical studies clearly proving the opposite.
The logic of this argument has clearly been lost on the feds. “DEA does not agree with the commenter’s concern about harm,” the agency wrote. “[18F]FP-CIT is derived from cocaine, a schedule II substance, via ecgonine, a schedule II substance.”
Science may eventually force the DEA to reconsider its hypocrisy, however. President Biden recently demanded that federal authorities convene a hearing to discuss either rescheduling or descheduling cannabis. And although the president himself has only advocated for lumping weed into Schedule II with cocaine, federal authorities have suggested that they may be open to taking an even more progressive approach.