The good news is that the Drug Enforcement Administration has moved to make a formal distinction between marijuana and its extracts, including cannabidiol (CBD), which doesn’t get users high and has shown tremendous potential for medical purposes.
The bad news is that all forms of the plant will remain listed alongside heroin in the most restrictive category of drugs under federal law.
The DEA filed a notice entitled “Establishment of a New Drug Code for Marihuana Extract” on Wednesday in the Federal Register, essentially stating that the move will allow the agency to better track which scientists are studying marijuana and which ones are researching CBD and other extracts.
Currently, when researchers apply to the DEA for permission to study marijuana, there’s no way for them to specify whether they intend to work solely on extracts. The DEA’s new rule will create separate numerical codes for marijuana and compounds derived from the plant.
“It’s an internal accounting mechanism for us,” DEA spokesperson Russell Baer told VICE News. “The purpose is to drill down and get more accurate information about research that’s being conducted with CBD in particular.”
CBD occurs naturally in marijuana; it’s one of the plant’s main active chemical compounds. However, unlike THC, the most well known ingredient in weed, CBD doesn’t cause users to feel stoned. But it has shown promise as a treatment for epilepsy seizures, chronic pain, cancer tumors, and a host of other maladies. Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized CBD for medical use. State laws legalizing CBD will remain unchanged by the DEA’s new rule, but they will still conflict with federal law.
Despite the apparent benefits of CBD and the fact that it doesn’t get users high, the DEA will continue to list it as a Schedule I controlled substance, a category reserved for drugs with “a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use.” The rule change announced on Wednesday won’t affect this classification.
“The whole policy around this plant is just so illogical,” said Robert J. Capecchi, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that campaigns for legalization. “Even when you look at the criteria you’re supposed to be looking at under the law, they’re just not following it. It’s just a stupid policy for lack of a better term.”
Congress could still decide to reschedule CBD and other extracts, a move that would eliminate some of the red tape faced by researchers who wish to study the compounds. Legislation was introduced last year in the Senate to ease restrictions on CBD research, but it stalled despite receiving bipartisan support.
The DEA’s entry on Wednesday in the Federal Register prompted several erroneous reports suggesting that CBD and other extracts would now have their own separate Schedule I listing. Other reports speculated that the DEA was attempting to avoid public scrutiny with the new rule by using the antiquated spelling “marihuana” in the entry, but that wording simply mirrors the Controlled Substances Act, which governs federal drug law.
“People are trying to read the tea leaves on this and it’s really not anything more elaborate than it is,” Baer said. “It’s intended to be straightfoward.”