In a significant development, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is currently evaluating the classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This review comes on the heels of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publicly acknowledging the medicinal use of cannabis, adding a layer of complexity to the ongoing discourse surrounding U.S. and global drug policy.

Summary of Recent Events:

  • President Biden, after emphasizing it during the campaign, initiated a federal review of marijuana scheduling in October 2022.
  • In August 2023, Bloomberg News disclosed that the HHS recommended reclassifying cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the CSA, citing eight key factors.
  • On January 3, 2024, the DEA confirmed its independent review of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, asserting “final authority” to Congress.
  • Following litigation by lawyer Matthew Zorn, HHS released 250+ documents, confirming its recommendation, emphasizing cannabis’s accepted medical use and lower abuse potential compared to Schedule I and II substances.
  • The DEA now holds the decision, conducting its five-factor test to make a recommendation.

A History Of Repeated Failed Attempts at Cannabis Rescheduling:

The debate over cannabis classification in the CSA is not new. NORML initiated the first rescheduling petition in 1972. In 1988, DEA Judge Francis Young supported rescheduling, declaring marijuana as one of the safest therapeutically active substances. However, in 1995, DEA director John Lawn overruled this decision, upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Subsequent rescheduling petitions, including one in 2016, were all denied by the DEA, asserting that cannabis does not meet the required five factors for rescheduling.

Despite past failures, there are notable differences this time. NORML’s deputy director, Paul Armentano, considers the current situation “unprecedented.” This rescheduling process was initiated by the current administration, a departure from previous third-party initiatives. Additionally, the process lacks transparency, with leaked information revealing details that would otherwise remain undisclosed until the DEA’s decision.

Armentano suggests two potential reasons for the leak. One possibility is that the Biden administration aims to signal its desire for DEA rescheduling but acknowledges historical reluctance. Alternatively, the leak could serve as political cover, allowing the administration to claim effort if the DEA rejects cannabis rescheduling, as it has done historically.

Potential Implications of DEA Rescheduling Cannabis:

If the DEA agrees with the HHS recommendation, significant policy, business, and consumer implications may arise. Cannabis rescheduling could eliminate its use as a basis for denying individual rights, impacting employment, public housing, and immigration. Federal drug testing laws and health insurance reimbursement policies for medical cannabis might be subject to amendments.

Business operations in the cannabis sector could become easier, with reduced restrictions on banking access and financial services, allowing state-licensed businesses standard tax deductions. Additionally, barriers to research and the development of new treatments may be lifted.

However, entering uncharted territory, NORML’s Paul Armentano highlights more questions than answers. Rescheduling a substance without FDA approval, especially to Schedule III, raises unprecedented challenges. It would also perpetuate the current conflict between state and federal laws, as 38 U.S. states already have some form of cannabis legislation.

Armentano advocates for de-scheduling cannabis, removing it from the CSA entirely, as the only path to real change. He cautions against expecting widespread change from rescheduling alone, emphasizing that it doesn’t bring about substantial shifts.

Global Implications of U.S. Cannabis Rescheduling:

International jurisdictions, especially those advancing reform bills, closely monitor the unfolding events in the U.S., recognizing its potential influence on global drug policy. Olivia Ewenike, a German cannabis legislation specialist, notes that a U.S. reassessment could destigmatize cannabis, impacting public opinion and potentially advancing legalization in Germany.

A policy shift in the U.S., a globally influential nation, might encourage lawmakers worldwide to reconsider drug policies. Ewenike emphasizes that even traditionally strict nations could be prompted to rethink and possibly decriminalize or legalize cannabis.

However, Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, warns that U.S. domestic rescheduling, particularly to Schedule III, may not address the long-standing harms of global cannabis prohibition. Advocates urge President Biden to fulfill his promise by completely removing cannabis from domestic schedules, emphasizing that Schedule III doesn’t equate to decriminalization or effectively address federal prohibition’s harms.

Likelihood of DEA Rescheduling Cannabis:

While the DEA’s decision on cannabis rescheduling remains uncertain, several sources suggest alignment with the HHS recommendation, supported by the FDA and NIDA. A Congressional Research Service report from last year deemed it “likely” that the DEA would follow suit. Six state governors urged President Biden to reschedule by the end of 2023 in a joint letter.

Acknowledging cannabis’s therapeutic benefits publicly for the first time adds significance, with experts like Fordham anticipating DEA acceptance of the recommendation. However, additional controls might be imposed to comply with international drug treaties, considering the DEA’s adherence to outdated “war on drugs” ideology.

Some argue that political considerations could play a substantial role, given drug policy’s tendency to align with political agendas rather than scientific evidence. Ewenike suggests that rescheduling might serve as a strategic move to appeal to progressive constituencies, particularly in the context of upcoming elections, indicating a high likelihood of cannabis rescheduling in the U.S.

Timeline for DEA Review Outcome:

The DEA’s decision won’t be immediate, with past petitions taking up to a decade to progress, and no obligation for an expedited process, according to Armentano. Once announced, a 60-day public comment period will follow, providing ample opportunity for opposition and potential litigation.

Armentano notes existing congressional displeasure with the DEA potentially altering marijuana scheduling, emphasizing the likelihood of resistance from politicians who have long opposed such changes in marijuana laws. Expecting a contentious process, he states that acceptance of bureaucratic agency-led changes won’t occur without a fight.

The potential rescheduling of cannabis by the DEA marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing evolution of drug policy. Balancing the intricacies of U.S. federal decisions with their global repercussions emphasizes the need for a nuanced approach that considers scientific evidence, public health, and international obligations. As stakeholders eagerly await the DEA’s decision, the broader implications on societal attitudes, legal frameworks, and global drug policy remain subjects of intense scrutiny and speculation.

In the realm of cannabis effects, the infamous “munchies” phenomenon has long been observed, but a recent breakthrough in research at Washington State University sheds light on the intricate mechanisms at play. Delving into the brains of mice exposed to vaporized cannabis sativa, scientists discovered a specific neural activity in the hypothalamus, a crucial region governing appetite. Published in Scientific Reports, this study not only deepens our understanding of how cannabis affects the brain but also holds promise for future therapeutic interventions targeting appetite disorders in cancer patients, individuals with anorexia, and potentially those struggling with obesity.

Employing advanced calcium imaging technology akin to a brain MRI, the researchers scrutinized the response of brain cells in mice exposed to cannabis vapor. Remarkably, the study uncovered the activation of neurons in the hypothalamus, specifically the Agouti Related Protein neurons, associated with the anticipation and consumption of palatable food. This activation was absent in the control group of unexposed mice.

Jon Davis, an assistant professor of neuroscience at WSU and the corresponding author, emphasized the significance of these findings, stating, “When the mice are given cannabis, neurons come on that typically are not active. There is something important happening in the hypothalamus after vapor cannabis.” The study marks a pioneering use of calcium imaging to explore brain reactions to food following cannabis exposure, setting it apart in the field of neuroscience research.

Crucially, the research identified the pivotal role of the cannabinoid-1 receptor, a well-known target of cannabis, in regulating the activity of Agouti Related Protein neurons. Employing a cutting-edge “chemogenetic” technique, acting as a molecular switch, researchers could manipulate these neurons. When deactivated, cannabis no longer induced an increase in appetite, providing a potential avenue for targeted therapeutic interventions.

This groundbreaking work builds upon earlier research from Davis’ lab, distinguishing itself by utilizing whole vaporized cannabis plant matter instead of isolated THC. This approach mirrors human cannabis consumption more closely. The study not only contributes to our understanding of the intricate dance between cannabis and appetite but also holds promise for developing more refined and targeted treatments for various appetite disorders.

Funding for this research was provided by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and through financial support from the state of Washington Initiative Measure No. 171.

In conclusion, the groundbreaking research on cannabis’s influence on specific hunger neurons in the brain opens new avenues for understanding appetite regulation. By identifying the activation of distinct brain cells and the role of the cannabinoid-1 receptor, researchers have unveiled a potential pathway for developing targeted therapeutics. This discovery not only sheds light on the intricate relationship between cannabis and appetite but also holds promise for addressing appetite disorders in various medical contexts, ranging from supporting cancer patients to managing conditions like anorexia. As science delves deeper into the complexities of cannabis’s effects, this study contributes valuable insights that could pave the way for refined treatments and enhance our understanding of the brain’s response to recreational cannabis use.

In a groundbreaking move, the U.S. government has unveiled a trove of documents shedding light on the ongoing evaluation of marijuana’s federal classification. For the first time, it officially confirms that health officials are urging the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to designate cannabis as a Schedule III substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

The released 252 pages from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) assert that cannabis possesses a “currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” and exhibits a “potential for abuse less than the drugs or other substances in Schedules I and II.”

The documentation highlights that over 30,000 healthcare professionals in 43 U.S. jurisdictions are authorized to recommend medical marijuana to more than six million registered patients for at least 15 medical conditions.

Attorney Matt Zorn, who obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, published the confirmation of the Schedule III recommendation on his On Drugs blog. The materials include a letter to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram stating that “marijuana meets the findings for control in Schedule III.”

via Matt Zorn, On Drugs blog

The documents delve into the government’s eight-factor analysis for drug scheduling, emphasizing marijuana’s abuse potential, its accepted medical use, and its safety and risk of physical dependence compared to other substances.

On the subject of medical use, the review acknowledges the widespread legalization of medical marijuana across U.S. states, with some programs having been in place for several years. The memo discusses mixed findings on the effectiveness of marijuana for various medical

indications, highlighting a substantial evidence base for its use in treating pain conditions, particularly neuropathic pain.

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) review, however, did not find support for marijuana in treating epilepsy or anxiety. The agency also expressed reservations about the potential risks associated with using marijuana to treat PTSD, stating that adverse events might outweigh limited benefits.

While some evidence supports marijuana’s benefits for Crohn’s disease, the overall assessment suggests a credible scientific foundation for its therapeutic use in pain management, anorexia related to certain medical conditions, and nausea and vomiting (e.g., chemotherapy-induced).

“Taken together, the data support that a substantial number of [health care practitioners] have gained clinical experience with at least one specific medical use of marijuana under state-authorized programs.”

Despite not being an unequivocal endorsement of marijuana’s medical benefits, federal health officials asserted that none of the evidence identified safety concerns precluding its therapeutic use. The evaluation also concluded that the public health risks of marijuana are low compared to other drugs of abuse, including heroin, cocaine, and benzodiazepines.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) aligns with this analysis, as stated in the documents.

In response to the release, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, sees this development as progress toward ending prohibition. The information disclosed provides a level of public transparency not seen before in the government’s rescheduling review.

In August, initial reports surfaced regarding the health agency’s recommendations for rescheduling marijuana. The prevailing belief centered on the likelihood of the HHS proposing a Schedule III classification, aligning it with substances such as ketamine and Tylenol with codeine. The recently released documents to Matt Zorn confirm this detail officially.

Should the DEA choose to adopt the HHS recommendation and move marijuana to Schedule III, it wouldn’t equate to broad legalization under federal law. However, it could wield significant influence by dismantling research barriers that have faced widespread criticism. Moreover, it might permit state-licensed cannabis businesses to access federal tax deductions currently restricted by IRS Code 280E.

It’s crucial to note that the ultimate decision on rescheduling lies with the DEA, a point reiterated in a recent letter to Congress. The DEA holds the authority to schedule, reschedule, or deschedule a drug under the Controlled Substances Act, considering statutory, regulatory, and HHS’s scientific evaluations. The agency is currently in the process of conducting its review.

Responding to a letter from 31 bipartisan lawmakers led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the DEA emphasized its commitment to evaluating the “merits” of legalization during the review. The lawmakers had raised concerns about the limitations of merely placing cannabis in Schedule III, rather than completely removing it from CSA control.

The timing of any rescheduling announcement remains uncertain, sparking speculation within the cannabis community. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) suggested in September that the DEA is likely to follow the HHS recommendation based on historical patterns.

Last year, the governors of six U.S. states—Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Louisiana—urged President Joe Biden to reschedule marijuana by year-end, emphasizing its alignment with a safe, regulated product. While opinions on recreational cannabis legalization may differ among governors, the consensus is that the cannabis industry is a permanent fixture, with states implementing robust regulations.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis expressed anticipation of the DEA expeditiously completing the review and moving marijuana to Schedule III. However, he emphasized the need for additional administrative and congressional actions to promote health, safety, and economic growth.

In contrast, six former DEA heads and five former White House drug czars voiced opposition to the HHS’s recommendation, presenting concerns about the potential impact on drug schedules and criminal penalties. However, attorneys general from a dozen states took a different stance on Friday, urging the DEA to proceed with rescheduling as a “public safety imperative.”

While some anticipate that a Schedule III classification would benefit state-legal marijuana markets, cautionary voices warn of potential risks to broader state-level legalization. The ongoing developments highlight the complex interplay between federal decisions and their ramifications on cannabis regulation.

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Recent research sheds light on the relationship between cannabis consumption, particularly THC and CBD, and the overall exercise experience. A study involving 42 runners suggests that cannabis, while enhancing mood and enjoyment during exercise, presents nuanced effects. Both THC and CBD play distinct roles, with CBD showcasing notable benefits without the performance-hindering aspects associated with THC.

Key Insights:

  • Cannabis, encompassing THC and CBD, has the potential to elevate mood and enjoyment during exercise, making the activity more pleasurable.
  • CBD, in particular, emerges as a promising component, offering substantial benefits in enhancing the exercise experience without the performance drawbacks associated with THC.
  • THC can intensify the effort perception during exercise due to an increase in heart rate, emphasizing caution in its use for performance enhancement.

University of Colorado Unveils Insights on Cannabis and Exercise:

In a pioneering study published in the journal Sports Medicine, the University of Colorado investigates the impact of legal cannabis on exercise experiences. The study, involving 42 runners, challenges stereotypes, revealing that pre-exercise cannabis use heightens positive mood and enjoyment, irrespective of THC or CBD choice. Notably, THC products may increase the perceived effort during exercise.

This research, a decade after Colorado’s initiation of legal recreational marijuana sales, prompts a reconsideration of cannabis’s potential role in encouraging physical activity. Angela Bryan, senior author and psychology professor, advocates for exploring cannabis as a tool for combatting sedentary lifestyles. The study underscores the need for a balanced exploration of both benefits and risks associated with integrating cannabis into exercise routines, offering new perspectives on the relationship between cannabis and physical activity.

Cannabis and Exercise – Unraveling the Dynamics:

The findings of the study challenge conventional stereotypes associated with cannabis, particularly the perception of inducing a ‘couch-lock.’ Instead, the research suggests that cannabis, whether THC or CBD, can contribute to a more positive exercise experience. Notably, both cannabinoids have distinct effects on the exercise journey.

THC’s Impact – A Balancing Act:

While THC, known for its intoxicating properties, can enhance positive mood and enjoyment during exercise, it introduces a challenge. Participants in the THC group reported that the same intensity of running felt significantly more challenging compared to the sober run. This increase in perceived effort is attributed to THC’s ability to elevate heart rate.

It’s crucial to highlight that, contrary to some expectations, THC did not emerge as a performance-enhancing drug. The study suggests that, despite the heightened enjoyment, runners using THC ran at a slightly slower pace.

CBD’s Promise – Enhancing Enjoyment Without Impairment:

In a surprising turn, CBD demonstrated significant benefits in enhancing the exercise experience. Participants using CBD reported greater enjoyment and intense euphoria, commonly known as the ‘runner’s high,’ surpassing even the THC group. Importantly, the CBD group experienced these benefits without the impairment associated with THC.

The study delves into the role of endogenous cannabinoids, naturally produced by the brain, in contributing to the ‘runner’s high.’ CBD and THC, by binding to the same receptors as these endogenous cannabinoids, seem to facilitate a heightened exercise experience.

Navigating the Landscape – Caution and Consideration:

The study emphasizes that while cannabis, particularly CBD, may offer a valuable tool for enhancing exercise enjoyment, caution is warranted. Cannabis use before exercise is not a one-size-fits-all solution and carries potential risks, including dizziness and loss of balance. Athletes pursuing performance goals, such as achieving a fast 5k or marathon PR, might find cannabis use counterproductive.

However, the study raises intriguing possibilities for individuals struggling to engage in physical activity. For those who find it challenging to exercise due to lack of motivation or discomfort, the prospect of incorporating a low-dose cannabis product before a walk, for example, warrants exploration.

Participant’s Insights on Connection Between Cannabis and Exercise:

When inquired about the intertwining of cannabis and workouts, participants in a recent study provided compelling reasons:

  • 90.5% highlighted an increase in enjoyment.
  • 69% reported a decrease in pain.
  • 59.5% emphasized an enhancement in focus.
  • 57.1% pointed to heightened motivation.
  • 45.2% mentioned a perception of time passing faster.
  • 28.6% believed it improved performance.

Conclusion – Opening Doors to Exploration:

In a world grappling with sedentary lifestyles, exploring innovative tools to encourage physical activity is crucial. The intersection of cannabis and exercise, as highlighted by this study, introduces new dimensions to this exploration. While it’s too early to make broad recommendations, the potential benefits for certain individuals, particularly those with difficulties in exercising, present a compelling area for future research.

As the cannabis and exercise landscape continues to unfold, researchers urge a balanced consideration of both harms and benefits. The hope is to foster a comprehensive understanding of how cannabis can be integrated responsibly into the realm of physical activity, providing potential solutions for a more active and healthier society.

Insights into Source Details:

Original Study (Closed access):

Title: Acute Effects of Ad Libitum Use of Commercially Available Cannabis Products on the Subjective Experience of Aerobic Exercise: A Crossover Study” by Laurel Gibson et al. Sports Medicine

Objective: To examine the acute effects of legal-market cannabis on regular users’ subjective responses to exercise.

Background: Despite concerns about cannabis contributing to sedentary behavior, recent public interest explores its concurrent use with exercise.

Methods: The study compared exercise experiences with and without cannabis use among 42 participants, regular cannabis users aged 21 to 39.

Results: Participants reported increased positive affect, enjoyment, and “runner’s high” symptoms with cannabis use. However, exertion levels were also higher. Cannabinoid content influenced these effects, with cannabidiol showing a larger difference in enjoyment and a smaller difference in exertion compared to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol.

In the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado stands as a trailblazer, celebrating a decade of legal recreational marijuana sales. This milestone, marked on January 1, 2024, not only signifies the state’s pioneering spirit but also reflects its significant impact on the national and global cannabis landscape. Over the past ten years, Colorado’s journey has been characterized by legislative evolution, economic successes, and societal shifts, setting the stage for what lies ahead.

Ten years ago, history was made as adults flocked from across the U.S. to partake in the first legal, regulated marijuana purchases from licensed retailers in Colorado. Governor Jared Polis highlights the state’s exemplary role in shaping the legalization debate, with nearly half of the country now embracing the end of prohibition. Since the historic ballot approval in 2012, Colorado has transformed its cannabis industry through legislative reforms, creating a regulatory model that has inspired jurisdictions worldwide.

Colorado’s legalization experiment has proven successful, providing a blueprint for transitioning individuals to the legal market while effectively addressing youth access, promoting public health, and generating substantial revenue. With over $15 billion in legal marijuana sales and $2.6 billion in tax and fee revenue, the state has allocated funds to support education, substance misuse treatment, law enforcement training, affordable housing, research, and illicit market interdiction.

Mason Tvert of VS Strategies emphasizes the success of Colorado’s legalization law, citing its flexibility that allows continuous adjustments and improvements. Drawing parallels with alcohol regulation, Tvert highlights the state’s ability to learn from others, continually refining its approach over time.

Colorado’s regulatory success extends to its commendable 99 percent ID verification compliance rate at cannabis businesses, effectively curbing underage access. Despite challenges and tragedies, the state has implemented reforms, such as tighter edible rules, showcasing its commitment to public safety.

Reflecting on the past decade, Molly Duplechian, executive director of Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses, notes the transformation from initial fear and uncertainty to a normalized acceptance of marijuana in everyday life. The spotlight on social equity emerges as a priority, addressing the disproportionate impacts of the war on drugs and fostering inclusive access to the industry.

Even officials who initially opposed legalization, such as U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper and former Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, acknowledge the success of Colorado’s regulatory model. However, pockets of resistance still exist, emphasizing concerns about the impact on young brains and associations with crime in some communities.

Looking ahead, Colorado’s cannabis industry faces a spectrum of challenges and opportunities in its next decade. As the market matures, there’s a focus on stabilizing growth amidst shifting consumer preferences and heightened competition. Regulatory dynamics, including potential federal changes, loom large, demanding agile state adaptation. The promise of federal legalization brings both opportunities for interstate commerce and challenges of increased competition. Colorado’s commitment to social equity gains momentum, with a focus on rectifying historical injustices and fostering inclusivity. Overcoming current challenges like declining sales requires strategic interventions, addressing high taxes, complex regulations, and marketing limitations. Anticipating a push for more public-use spaces, the industry advocates for diverse legal consumption areas. A broader cultural acceptance of cannabis, especially among older demographics, is on the horizon. Successful adaptation to changing market dynamics ensures the industry’s resilience, contributing to ongoing economic impact and fostering public acceptance in this ever-evolving landscape. 

Colorado’s pioneering journey over the past decade has not only established it as a leader in the legal marijuana movement but also paved the way for ongoing advancements. As the state navigates future challenges and opportunities, its commitment to a just, regulated, and thriving cannabis industry remains steadfast, offering a beacon for others to follow.

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