Embracing a New Era: The Impact of Rescheduling Cannabis on Public Health and Clinical Research

Embracing a New Era: The Impact of Rescheduling Cannabis on Public Health and Clinical Research

As the DEA proposes moving cannabis to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act, we enter a transformative period in the understanding and utilization of this complex botanical product. Moving cannabis out of Schedule I and into Schedule III is a both incremental reform, and profound recognition of the implications cannabis holds for public health, clinical research, and patient care. Here, we explore the potential benefits and the pivotal role the medical community will play in shaping the future landscape of cannabis research and therapy.

Unlocking Research Potential

Historically, the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance has significantly hindered scientific research due to stringent regulatory barriers. These restrictions have not only limited access to different materials for study but also discouraged many institutions from engaging in cannabis research. The reclassification to Schedule III promises a reduction in these barriers, opening the door for more comprehensive, rigorous, and diversified research.

With easier access, researchers can employ robust methodologies like randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to explore cannabis’s efficacy and safety comprehensively. This could lead to a better understanding of its therapeutic potential for a variety of conditions, possibly ushering in new FDA-approved cannabis-based treatments.

What Research Will Look Like in 3-5 Years Post-Rescheduling

In the next 3-5 years, we can anticipate a significant expansion in the scale and scope of cannabis research. Increased funding opportunities and collaborations across academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies are likely as the stigma surrounding research diminishes. We expect to see:

  • Prospective, Longitudinal Studies: These will assess the long-term effects of cannabis use, providing critical data on its safety and efficacy over extended periods.
  • Focus on Other Cannabinoids: Beyond THC and CBD, research will likely explore the therapeutic potential of lesser-known cannabinoids and combinations, in which there are over a million possible combinations that could lead to new medical applications.
  • Improved Clinical Trials: More sophisticated and larger-scale clinical trials will be feasible, potentially leading to cannabis-based medications that are as rigorously tested as traditional pharmaceuticals.
  • Placebos: The development of validated placebos and related products will improve the credibility and legitimacy of research findings. Placebos can be used to reduce bias in subjects receiving a cannabinoid or cannabis product, as there is a well-established expectancy bias when it comes to cannabis products.

Economic Impacts

The economic implications of rescheduling cannabis could be profound. With the potential for new cannabis-based products entering the market, there is likely to be a significant economic boost from both innovation and the expansion of the cannabis industry. Economic impacts might include:

  • Reduction in Healthcare Costs: By providing an effective alternative to more expensive or addictive medications, cannabis could lead to substantial savings in the healthcare sector.
  • Growth in Jobs and Tax Revenue: The expansion of the cannabis industry will likely create jobs and generate additional tax revenue, which can be used to fund public health initiatives.
  • Interstate Commerce Potential: One of the immediate benefits of rescheduling would be the standardization of a wide variety of cannabis products for commerce and research. Companies would be able to apply for FDA approval and/or meet standards that allow products to be shipped across the country. This could also facilitate more detailed studies on the adverse effects of cannabis, contributing to a more robust safety profile that can guide clinicians in prescribing and managing cannabis therapy. Understanding potential drug interactions, long-term effects, and contraindications will become clearer, aiding in safer, more effective patient care.
  • Positive Financial Impact on Dispensaries: Removing cannabis from Schedule I will benefit individual dispensaries by opening the doors for them to write off legitimate business expenses and overhead, for tax purposes – as is permitted and legitimate in other industries. Banking and other financial implications will have a positive impact on the financial status and viability of local dispensaries.

Reducing Stigma and Expanding Access

The stigma associated with cannabis has long been a barrier to both research and therapy. Schedule III designation reduces this stigma, potentially increasing patient willingness to seek cannabis treatments and clinician readiness to discuss them. It will also open the door for more medical professionals to engage in cannabis discussions because they will be able to easily find education with more medical schools teaching about it and be less suspectable to bias and agendas. Overall, Schedule III status will lead to an enriching of the pool of expertise within the field.

Downside of Rescheduling

To be fair and balanced, there is perhaps one downside to rescheduling. And that is the effect on perceived safety. We already know that legalization and more availability or access on the state level has contributed to the public’s perception that cannabis (in ALL its forms) is relatively safe; “It’s legal, so it must be safe.” However, there is a difference between feeling safe and being safe.
For example, the risks of daily cannabis use may be underestimated regarding impairment, i.e., Driving Under the Influence of Cannabis (DUIC), pregnancy, cardiovascular health, and other potential adverse events or unwanted experiences. The shift in perceived safety for all things derived from cannabis (and hemp) might be accelerated by rescheduling – this is a hypothesis, not a demonstrated fact.

Call to Action

As members of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, we have a critical role in this historic transformation. We encourage all clinicians, researchers, and stakeholders to engage in this process:

  • Submit Comments to the DEA: Share your professional experiences and discuss the scientific data surrounding cannabis’s medical use and safety profile.
  • Educate and Advocate: Use your knowledge to educate peers, patients, and the public about the benefits and safe use of cannabis, and advocate for policies that reflect our understanding of its therapeutic potential.
  • Participate in Research: Consider engaging in or supporting clinical studies and trials to further our understanding of cannabis.

The reclassification of cannabis opens new horizons for medical research and treatment, offering a brighter future where cannabis is recognized and utilized for its full therapeutic potential. Let us seize this opportunity to reshape the landscape of cannabis medicine, ensuring it is informed by robust scientific inquiry and characterized by rigorous clinical standards.

By Jahan Marcu, PhD
Jahan Marcu, Ph.D is one of the top researchers and industry experts in the field, contributing to many innovative discoveries, applications, and standards for medical cannabis and its laboratory analysis, cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensing. He is a court qualified expert witness for cannabis and synthetic drugs, and is cited in case law. Dr. Marcu has also created training for the industry and internationally accepted methods for cannabis analysis, and has founded institutions and organizations for research, education, and training programs.