‘WHO recommendations are likely to change international law’

Cannabis has been on the worldwide list of banned substances since 1961 and according to the World Health Organization (WHO) has hardly any medical value. This view could very well be coming to an end. Last week the ECDD, a special WHO drug committee, met for the first time to discuss exclusively the pros and cons of cannabis for health. Various parties from the field – doctors, patients and experts – were invited to the hearing to give their advice to the committee.

At the ECDD meeting the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines (IACM) showed a video message with the intention of giving doctors and patients more opportunities to prescribe medicinal cannabis. According to IACM director Franjo Grotenhermen, it is a good sign that his organisation was allowed to speak. The positions of the selected speakers say a lot about the possible outcome of the meeting. Grotenhermen: “For the first time in history speakers had the opportunity to say the current situation is no longer justified. The committee will probably use these statements in their own recommendations. Otherwise they would have invited parties which are more focused on the dangers of cannabis use.”

Michael Krawitz of the FAAAT, an international think-tank on drug addiction, calls the meeting of historical importance. Krawitz, an expert in the field of international drug policy for over twenty years, was in Geneva at the fortieth meeting of the ECDD to submit an advisory report. “It was a great meeting. Their recommendations are likely to change international law,” is the high expectation of Krawitz. “It is the very first time the medicinal use of cannabis is on the ECDD’s agenda. In 1961, cannabis ended up as a prohibited drug in the UN treaty without ever being officially reviewed by experts. A genuine formal scientific evaluation of cannabis as a medicine has never been done. That is now being put right.”

ECDD

The Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) is a WHO committee and is composed of independent experts in the field of drugs and medicines. The committee is convened by the WHO about once a year to assess the impact of psychoactive substances on public health and to make recommendations to the international community. This year the fortieth meeting was completely dominated by cannabis. This being the first time after the foundation of the WHO in 1948.

The Dutch Harm Hids was one of the individual speakers. “The meeting was very well set up. You would expect everyone to be against cannabis, but that was certainly not the case.“ Hids has a son with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammation of the intestine.

UN treaties

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs is a UN body that determines which drugs fall under international control. The committee comes to these decisions based on recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO).

There are three major UN treaties that regulate drugs around the world:

  • The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961)
  • The Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971)
  • Illegal trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances (1988)

The 1961 treaty states that cannabis and cannabis preparations are out of date and there is no reason for their medical use. That treaty is what the proponents of medicinal cannabis use would like to see adapted.

His son has successfully used CBD capsules and THC oil for years, which locally counteracts inflammation. Hids: “He is given a maximum of 12 mg of THC per day. He does not get high and can just go to school and study.”

During the meeting of the World Health Organization, it became clear that the committee is struggling with recreational cannabis use. In order not to blur the market, according to Hids, the medicinal cannabis industry must remain far away from recreational use. “As long as the product remains smokable, then you know for certain that people will also use it for recreational purposes. You prevent abuse by transforming cannabis to forms that are totally uninspiring for recreational use. That was my message to the committee.”

The final report and recommendations from the meeting will be available on the ECDD website by the end of July 2018.  After approval from the WHO the recommendations will then be put to a vote with the 53 member states of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. This body must eventually reach agreement on whether the current UN treaties may be amended.

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