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May 10, 2024

Marijuana reclassification: MSU experts anticipate side effects

The proposed reclassification of marijuana, or cannabis, by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration makes MSU researchers both optimistic and pessimistic. 


Moving from a Schedule I to a less tightly regulated Schedule III drug is expected to enable more research and clinical trials that could determine appropriate medical uses of marijuana and its compounds including CBD, THC and CBN. This would be especially beneficial to cancer patients and those who struggle with pain management. 


Some discussion centers on changes that could come for those who have been incarcerated on marijuana charges. This is also an issue of racial disparity as Black people experience more marijuana-related arrests than white people, although they tend to use the drug at an equal rate.


In addition, there is concern that this move would increase the opportunity for misuse and abuse at a time when addiction treatments and health care providers are in short supply. A reclassification could also impact groups of people who should not be using marijuana, like young children and those who are pregnant, allowing them easier access. And people may be tempted to self-diagnose and self-medicate despite the fact that the use of this drug should be carefully managed by a physician


Michigan State University researchers are studying the potential health benefits of marijuana for various medical conditions including HIV, diabetes, and cardiac and metabolic health. Here are their perspectives on this issue:

Jamie Alan, associate professor, Department of Toxicology, College of Human Medicine



“The reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance to a Schedule III controlled substance will have impact on the treatment of patients, research and society. Schedule I medications have a high potential for misuse but no accepted medical use, whereas Schedule III medications have relatively lower potential for misuse and have an accepted medical use. This reclassification will open the door for more treatment options for pain, cancer, etc. We should keep in mind that a Schedule III medication still carries a risk for misuse so we should be thoughtful about increasing our addiction medicine workforce. Finally, this may serve as an impetus for political, societal and cultural change, because while Black and white people are reported to use marijuana at an equal rate, on average, Black people are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges.”


Omayma Alshaarawy, assistant professor, Department of Family Medicine, College of Human Medicine 



“As cannabis gains popularity among patients with underlying medical conditions, evidence for therapeutic benefits or potential risks associated with its use is generally lacking, mainly owing to obstacles to conducting robust cannabis research. The proposed cannabis reclassification to the tightly regulated Schedule III-controlled substances will lessen restrictions on scientific research. Yet, it is also important to investigate the effects of reclassifying cannabis as it relates to access, especially among groups that are more susceptible to harms from cannabis exposure such as children and pregnant individuals.”


Read more from Alshaarawy on MSUToday.


James Anthony, professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, College of Human Medicine


“It is my hope that our federal government would remove all criminal penalties for simple possession of small amounts of cannabis products and related drug compounds now regulated by the federal government, including psychedelic compounds. The consequences and costs of criminal records and incarceration for these offenses almost certainly outstrip what we now know about the other toxic effects. I also hope for a change in current policies that slow down and block scientific processes needed to estimate these effects and to discover less toxic alternatives with better safety profiles. Our current international, federal and state policies have painted human society into a corner that stifles innovation; we need to promote human adaptation during the 21st century.”


Read more from Anthony on MSUToday.


Kipling Bohnert, associate professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, College of Human Medicine



“The rescheduling of cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug would be a major shift in U.S. drug policy. From a research standpoint, this rescheduling would make some types of studies, including clinical trials, much easier to conduct. The hope is that this would lead to increased understanding of both the potential risks and benefits of cannabis use on human health and well-being.”


Cara Poland, associate professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, College of Human Medicine



“While recreational cannabis is legal for adults over the age of 21 in 24 states, we do not know all of the consequences of cannabis use from a health perspective — especially on the developing adolescent brain. Rescheduling cannabis will allow researchers to create more robust systems of research with fewer barriers to access. I would encourage people to be cautious in their use of cannabis as the health consequences and benefits are not fully understood.”


Read more from Poland on MSUToday.


Brittany Tayler, internist, pediatrician and assistant professor; C.S. Mott Department of Public Health; College of Human Medicine



“As we continue to see efforts to decriminalize and further legalize use of cannabis and associated products, it is even more important that policymakers, public health officials and health care professionals take notice and begin incorporating this into their lexicon. Particularly as a physician, the impact of cannabis consumption, both medically and recreationally, is vitally important to keep in mind when providing care to patients, whether that be counseling on currently understood impacts on morbidity and mortality or understanding the impact of cannabis consumption on the metabolism of regularly prescribed medications. I think as a community, we have to come to grips with the reality of cannabis use becoming more prevalent and be proactive in our work to help determine best practices that keep individuals safe while balancing autonomy and personal freedoms.”

By: Dalin Clark

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