The American Academy of Pediatrics is requesting that the Drug Enforcement Administration reclassify marijuana as a less harmful substance in order to facilitate research of the substance for medical use.
Marijuana is currently on the DEA’s Schedule 1 listing for controlled substances, which are not considered to have any “currently accepted medical use in the U.S., a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.” Other drugs in this category include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
The AAP wants marijuana downgraded to the list of Schedule 2 drugs, which are considered to have a “high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.” These include various widely prescription narcotics, such as oxycodone, morphine, and codeine, which are used for medical purposes despite being high risk for addiction and abuse. While the accuracy of a Schedule 2 designation for marijuana is still dubious – is it really accurate to claim that marijuana has a high potential for abuse and dependence, and is there even substantial data to support that? – it would at the very least allow for pediatric research, especially relevant in the conversation regarding medicinal marijuana, as pediatric uses and effects potentially differ from those of adults.
Cannabis has been suggested as an alternative treatment for symptoms associated with developmental and behavioral pediatric conditions such as autism, ADHD, epilepsy, and Tourette’s syndrome, though there is also a more pronounced concern over the potential effects of cannabis on the developing child and adolescent brain. The research data as it currently stands is insufficient and speculative at best.
“By placing [marijuana] on Schedule 2, it would allow the FDA to be involved [in pediatric research] as the agency is in any study,” says Seth Ammerman, a clinical professor in pediatrics at Stanford University and a member of the AAP national committee on substance abuse, who co-authored the new policy statement. “Unless scheduling changes, this won’t happen. And there could be therapeutic benefits. The AAP is not opposed to medical marijuana, per se, but we feel it’s important that this be explored within the [framework of the] FDA process, where you have standardization.”
As the Wall Street Journal points out, the AAP recommendation is significant. “By adopting such a policy, the influential medical society is lending its voice to a growing national debate over the veracity of using marijuana for medical purposes. And any steps that lead toward new research may also open the door to further investment from a variety of companies that view marijuana as a growing, if risky market.”
Ammerman contends that most people realize AAP advocacy is for the well-being of children, and that the medical society will advocate for medicinal marijuana research if there is a chance that the results of such research could help improve pediatric care.