Op-Ed: The DEA Doesn’t Even Science, Bro

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) managed to piss off a whole lot of people with their recent decision to deny two petitions to reschedule marijuana from a schedule I drug, which currently sits alongside the likes of drugs such as heroin. They claim that it isn’t a safe nor effective medicine. It is truly sad that, in damn near 2017, I even have to say that this is a decision that is not based in reality. Unfortunately, this decision will just keep us in the dark ages of federal marijuana prohibition just that much longer. Allow me to elaborate.

So let’s examine what exactly the DEA has to say on this matter, as well as the facts side by side. On the administration’s website, they claim the following:

“Based on the legal standards in the CSA [Controlled Substance Act], marijuana remains a schedule I controlled substance because it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse.”

DEA chief, Chuck Rosenberg, also elaborated on this decision in a letter to the Governors of Rhode Island and Washington:

“This decision isn’t based on danger. This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine, and it’s not.”

So let’s hit the brakes for a second to examine the claims being made here by the highest authorities on these matters. First, we must take into account what a schedule I drug actually is, and then we can try to understand why they consider cannabis to be deserving of that categorization.

According to the DEA’s website:

“Schedule I drugs are considered the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence.”

The drug categorizations range from what they consider most dangerous to the least. Schedule I being the most dangerous, schedule V being the least. I must point out how ironic it is that the drugs in the “most dangerous” category were put there on the premise of danger and risk, but then they turn around and say that the decision to reclassify marijuana wasn’t based on danger, but efficacy as a medicine. Before we even get the chance to dive in a little deeper and fact-check them, some pretty massive holes and contradictions are already beginning to appear on the surface. And these are the people in charge of making these decisions for us?

It is almost common knowledge at this point that marijuana indeed has medicinal value to one extent or another. Which plays a role in the fact that the majority of the American public is in favor of legalization, and more than half of the country has legal medical marijuana of some form or another. How can this be if there is supposedly no medical value?, a website that explore both pros and cons of many different controversial issues, lists 60 peer reviewed studies conducted in between 1990-2014 that mostly suggest positive results for treatment of many ailments that include but are not limited to glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, nausea, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, cancer, and Tourette’s syndrome. In fact, 41 (68.3%) of them show positive results, 5 (8.3%) show negative results, and 14 (23.3%) show neither. Notice that even if you combine the studies that demonstrate both ‘negative’ and ‘neither’ results, the score is still ultimately 41 to 19. Talk about an upset.

Of those 60 mentioned, one study published in August of 2014 by The Official Journal of the American Academy of Neurology demonstrates therapeutic value for patients suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Cannabis contains immunomodulatory properties and effects on excitotoxicity that suggest a possible disease-modifying role among ALS patients.  Of 102 people who completed the survey, 21% reported either current or prior use of marijuana to help manage symptoms. Out of those individuals, 75% reported that cannabis helped stimulate their appetite, 65% reported it to aid with sleep, 80% claimed that it helped their anxiety, 70% claimed it helped with depression, and 60% said that it helped with muscle relaxation. Only 33% of the participants lived in an area where medical cannabis is legal. Of the 66% who didn’t have legal access, 81% expressed interest in trying it if it were to be legalized.

So we can establish that the DEA is simply wrong about their claims about the efficacy of marijuana as a safe medicine. What about their assertion that cannabis has a high potential for abuse?

According to the National Institutes of Health [NIH], 30% of cannabis users have some degree of dependence. Withdrawals from the drug are usually characterized by the following:

“Frequent marijuana users often report irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, and/or various forms of physical discomfort that peak within the first week after quitting and last up to 2 weeks.”

Someone who is dependent on marijuana (such as myself for medical reasons) might have some discomfort, mood, and sleep issues when they go without for a week or two. Is this really the DEA’s idea of “severe” and “dangerous”?

Given all of this information, it is easy to see why so many people are completely dissatisfied with the DEA’s recent decision to keep marijuana classified as a schedule I drug. When we look at the supposed “severe risks” of developing a dependence, we can see that this drug is not deserving of the classification it has received. Nor are the patients who could benefit from, but often lack access to, legal marijuana deserving of that by any means. When 3/10 people have a risk of developing varying degrees of dependency, that means 7/10 do not. Therefore, having to suffer the consequences for an issue affecting only a few. How is that logical, and more importantly, how is that considered just? They’re quite literally ignoring the will of the majority of the country to make cannabis more accessible at a federal level, as well as dismissing a pretty substantial amount of scientific data.


Joshua D. Speer

I'm an undergraduate student living in Denver, CO. I am currently working on my prerequisites at Front Range Community College--where I'm a staff writer for the Front Page (campus newspaper) and chapter president of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). I intend to transfer into a four-year Bioengineering program, sub-specialty of Neuroengineering. Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @JoshuaDSpeer.

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