Cannabis is so prevalent in the United States that nearly 12% of all people in the country above the age of 12 have reported using it within the past year. With the changing legal landscape of medicinal and recreational cannabis, more and more people are deciding to partake.
Despite the growing number of people using cannabis, the federal government continues to adhere to the archaic laws of cannabis criminalization. With that in mind, should cannabis be considered a drug?
The federal government has had a harsh stance on cannabis since the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) was passed in 1971 under Richard Nixon. When the CSA was enacted, the government classified cannabis as a schedule I drug.
Substances are only placed in schedule I if they meet a few criteria: The substance has no accepted medical useand a high potential for abuse. According to the United States government, cannabis is a dangerous drug.
What Is a Drug?
A drug is any substance that causes a physiological or psychological change in an organism. If the definition sounds like it’s reserved for heavily psychoactive substances, it isn’t, because the world’s most popular drug is actually coffee.
More specifically, the drug is caffeine, which is the psychoactive chemical responsible for the stimulating effects we get from coffee. With cannabis, it’s the cannabinoids like THC that are responsible for the intoxicating effects that we feel.
By definition, cannabis is a drug. However, drugs are typically separated into pharmaceutical, recreational, and illicit categories.
Popular recreational drugs include coffee, alcohol, and tobacco. Pharmaceutical drugs are chemicals that are used to prevent, treat, cure, or diagnose a disease. There are also natural holistic herbs that can be used to boost well-being that can be classified as a drug as well.
Right now, cannabis is still considered an illegal drug in the eyes of the federal government. However, cannabis is at the epicenter of sweeping changes as different states in the US, and other countries around the world are allowing citizens to use cannabis medically and recreationally.
The big issue that cannabis faces is if it should be only medicinal or recreational as well. Some argue that cannabis serves only medicinal value. Still, others maintain that it is a safe drug that is much less dangerous or harmful than tobacco and alcohol.
The divide is apparent in the US, as some states have allowed the recreational use of cannabis, some have allowed its medical use, and in a few, it is illegal altogether.
What Are The Medical Uses of Cannabis?
As the first point of the Schedule I classification states, the government says that cannabis has no medicinal value. However, the landscape of current medical research begs to differ.
It all starts with the endocannabinoid (EC) system found throughout our bodies. The EC system is implicated in many physiological processes such as pain, memory, movement, inflammation, appetite, and metabolism.
In the EC system, there are two primary types of receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are mainly found in the brain and central nervous system, and exert psychoactive effects. CB2 receptors are primarily found in the immune system. THC binds primarily to CB1 receptors, which is what gives us the intoxicated feeling and exerts its influence on our brain.
Cannabis has been found to help inflammatory ailments such as multiple sclerosis as well as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In IBD, common symptoms are gut pain and decreased appetite due to abdominal pain. Cannabis helps by first controlling the pain, and then stimulating the appetite.
Appetite stimulation can also be beneficial to those suffering from disorders such as anorexia as a result of circumstances like HIV infection or radiation treatments. One study in Canada found that consuming THC helped HIV patients intake more calories and have a better quality of life overall.
Since the EC system is part of our pain control system, researchers have theorized that using cannabis can decrease pain overall for many conditions or ailments. As a result, many studies have been performed between cannabis use and pain management.
Neuropathic pain is a painful symptom of many illnesses in which people suffer from non-stop pain all around the body. A clinical trial has shown that cannabis decreases this pain significantly and also assists in sleep quality, improving their quality of life overall.
It doesn’t just end there; a study of cancer patients found that 70% of them who used cannabis reported decreased pain as well as reduced nausea.
The EC system is also thought to interact with certain psychiatric disorders like anxiety and PTSD directly. Onecurrent study showed that CBD reduced anxiety symptoms in people with a social anxiety disorder. In another study, PTSD symptoms were reduced among combat veterans.
We can easily see that cannabis is a versatile tool for combating many illnesses, but is there a downside?
Can Cannabis Be Dangerous?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns that cannabis has many adverse side effects. In their most comprehensive study, they list the short-term and long-term side effects of smoking cannabis.
For short term effects, NIDA claims that short term memory is affected, which makes it difficult to obtain and retain information. They also claim that at higher doses, motor function may be impaired, and a user is more likely to feel paranoia or psychosis.
They list addiction in 9% of long-term users and altered brain development with an increased risk of chronic psychosis disorders. Many of the long-term effects are thought, especially to affect people who start smoking at a young age.
One obvious side-effect of smoking anything is inflammation of the airways and the possible development of chronic bronchitis. However, there was no evidence of increasing the chances of lung cancer due to smoking cannabis.
NIDA concludes that smoking cannabis at a young age can lead to many of the adverse side effects they list. However, their bias shines through by including a metric of cannabis being a potential ‘gateway drug’ as well as adding a ‘diminished lifetime achievement’ score.
The gateway drug hypothesis is not proven, and the lifetime achievement metric is entirely subjective. It would be bold to say that cannabis has no side effects. Still, NIDA is very obviously going on the offensive.
Still, concrete research suggests that people under the age of 21 shouldn’t smoke and that it isn’t good for the lungs either.
Not A Schedule I Drug
Cannabis is indeed a drug, but it has many medicinal properties and is much safer than other recreational drugs like alcohol and tobacco.
Hopefully, cannabis will be removed as a Schedule I drug. People in every state are leading the way, and widespread reform seems imminent as research continues to prove cannabis a safe and therapeutic drug for many ailments.