WHO has NOT removed Cannabis from “Drugs” Category!

False Headline Health

Cannabis is a plant that has uses as a recreational and medicinal drug.  Cannabis plants produce a group of chemicals called cannabinoids, which is considered to have mental and physical effects when consumed. Cannabis has been used as a medicine in Eastern as well as Western medical practices over the years. Yet its use as medicine has not been rigorously tested and as a result the safety and efficacy of using cannabis to treat diseases is still undergoing clinical trials. World Health Organization has listed Cannabis as a drug. Yet since lately active campaigns were observed to legalize the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

In this backdrop we noticed a news report by CostaRica News published with the headline “The World Health Organization Removed Cannabis from the “Drug” Category

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We noticed that the above report had been widely shared among Sri Lankan social media users as seen below.

Here is another article which carried the same headline on removal of Cannabis from “drug” category by WHO.

Since we didn’t observe any official statement by WHO regarding such a decision we decided to carry out a fact check on the above news report.

Fact Check 

We carried out a Google keyword search to find out whether World Health Organization had actually removed Cannabis from the “drug” category, and were not able to find any verified reports to support the claim. Most of the recent news reports had discussed about WHO’s plans on rescheduling Cannabis.

Our attention was drawn towards an article from Transnational Institute (TNI) titled “Cannabis rescheduling – What could it mean for Africa?” that sheds light on how WHO’s formal recommendations to reschedule cannabis and cannabis-related substances, would present an opportunity for African governments and civil society to further decolonise drug control approaches on the continent, as well as strengthen the international legal basis for emerging medical cannabis programs in several African countries.  

Here is another article titled “Not all WHO cannabis recommendations would loosen international control, UN drug agency says” on this matter.

However, in order to get a definitive response from WHO itself on this topic we contacted them via email and got the following response via Vladimir Poznyak, MD, PhD, Unit Head, Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviours, Department of Mental Health and Substance Use of the WHO.

The WHO recommendations regarding international level of control of cannabis and its preparations do not mean that cannabis is suggested to be removed from the category of “drugs”.  

Cannabis and cannabis-based preparations contain THC that is a psychoactive substance that has intoxicating and dependence producing properties. Usually the concept of “drugs” include substances which are under international control, including cannabis.

Indeed, WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence recommended to remove extracts and tinctures of cannabis from Schedule 1 of the 1961 convention, but if they contain THC which is the main psychoactive ingredient of cannabis extracts and tinctures, they will be automatically under the international control because WHO recommends to place THC and dronabinol in Schedule 1 of the 1961 Convention, which is one of the strictest levels of international control of psychoactive substances.

And, according to WHO recommendations, cannabis and THC-containing cannabis preparations will continue to be considered as “drugs” similar to other substances under international control in line with 1961 convention.

Furthermore, WHO website still carries the following classification about Cannabis as well.

Even in the original article itself, which had stirred this conversation regarding Cannabis, the author had mentioned that in the last paragraph as “WHO specified that Cannabidiol is not addictive, despite this, it does not mean that Cannabis is no longer classified as a drug by international health organizations. The WHO report only indicates results one of the elements of Cannabis: Cannabidiol.

Conclusion 

From our investigation it is clear, while WHO had submitted recommendations regarding international level of control of cannabis and its preparations, it does not mean that cannabis is suggested to be removed from the category of “drugs” and cannabis and THC-containing cannabis preparations will continue to be considered as “drugs” similar to other substances under international control in line with 1961 convention. 

Hence, we conclude that reports which appear as “The World Health Organization Removed Cannabis from the “Drug” Category” as misleading articles with False Headlines.

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Title:WHO has NOT removed Cannabis from “Drugs” Category!

Fact Check By: Sathyajith Subasinghe 

Result: False Headline

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