Cannabis (marijuana) is a Schedule 1 drug, according to the US Government, which states it is highly addictive with no medical applications. However, a lot of publications say it is only mildly addictive, similar to coffee. If that is true, then shouldn’t caffeine also be considered a Schedule 1 drug? I can’t imagine what people would do if the federal government declared a war on caffeine! So, what’s the real story directly, is cannabis highly addictive?
California Coffee Addict
Dear CA Coffee Addict,
There is a lot of conflicting information out there, not only between scientists and politicians, but also between different departments of our federal government. You are correct, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has cannabis classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Schedule I drugs are those that have the following characteristic according to the DEA:
- The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
- The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical treatment use in the U.S.
- There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or substance under medical supervision.
No prescriptions may be written for Schedule I substances, and they are not readily available for clinical use. Other drugs and substances on the DEA Schedule 1 include: Heroin, LSD, Peyote, Ecstasy, Qualudes, GHB (“date rape” drug), Bath Salts (similar to amphetamines), Psilocybin (mushrooms), and KHAT (plant with actions similar to amphetamines).
Interestingly, Schedule 2 drugs include such names as: Oxycontin, Morphine, Amphetamines, Fentanyl, Adderall, Vicodin, Opium, Demerol, Methamphetamine, Dilaudid, Methadone, and Secobarbital, to name a few.
Also, the following
So, let’s look at the facts behind cannabis as a substance with a “high potential for abuse.” Below is a hierarchy of addiction, according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science:
- 32 percent of people who try tobacco become dependent.
- 23 percent of those who try heroin become dependent.
- 17 percent of those who try cocaine become dependent.
- 15 percent of those who try alcohol become dependent.
- 9 percent of those who try cannabis become dependent.
Now let’s look at the facts behind cannabis as a “drug or other substance that has no currently accepted medical treatment use in the U.S.” Here is a link to the patent that was granted to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 20 years ago, on the compounds (cannabinoids) of the cannabis plant as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.
According to the US government, as stated in their patent application:
“Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and HIV dementia.”
That sure sounds like “accepted medical treatment use in the US.” Every year, more people die from Alzheimer’s disease than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. That is a lot of needless suffering for nonsense political reasons. Hopefully soon, science will triumph over ideology.
Finally, let’s look at the facts about cannabis as it relates to the third criteria of a Schedule 1 substance: “There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or substance under medical supervision.” Below are the number of annual fatal overdoses caused by alcohol, opioids, tobacco, cocaine, and cannabis:
- Alcohol: Alcohol poisoning kill 6 people every day (CDC). More than 100,000 people die every year from alcohol related causes: drinking and driving crashes, other accidents, falls, fires, alcohol-related homicides and suicides. (NCAAD) Teen alcohol use kills 4,700 people each year – that’s more than all illegal drugs combined. (MADD) Alcohol abuse is the third highest cause of death in the U.S. (NIAAA)
- Opioids: Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illicit drug heroin as well as the licit prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others. As little as two grams of fentanyl, equal to a few grains of salt, has the potential to be lethal. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015. In 2015, 276,000 adolescents were current nonmedical users of pain reliever, with 122,000 having an addiction to prescription pain relievers. In 2015, an estimated 21,000 adolescents had used heroin in the past year, and an estimated 5,000 were current heroin users. Additionally, an estimated 6,000 adolescents had a heroin use disorder in 2014.
- Tobacco: Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. If smoking continues at the current rate among U.S. youth, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 years of age are expected to die prematurely from a smoking-related illness (CDC).
- Cocaine: 6,748 cocaine overdose deaths were logged in 2015. More than 1,500 were found to have also used fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid used to manage chronic pain in cancer patients.
- Cannabis: According to the DEA Drug Fact Sheet on Marijuana, “No death from overdose of marijuana has been reported.” https://www.dea.gov/druginfo/drug_data_sheets/Marijuana.pdf
So, in terms of safety, cannabis is the clear winner. All legal substances, alcohol, tobacco, and prescription opioids, kill more than 630,000 people every year. That is 1,644 people every day, and climbing.
Those are the facts, and I’m sticking to them!
I say, enjoy your coffee with no worries while you ponder these facts,
(Susan Marks RN, BSN, PHN is a medical cannabis educator and consultant based in Los Angeles. Send your questions and comments to Nurse Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org.)