The American Academy of Pediatrics is requesting that the Drug Enforcement Administration reclassify marijuana as a less harmful substance in order to facilitate research of the substance for medical use, according to a policy statement released Monday.
"The AAP strongly supports research and development of pharmaceutical cannabinoids and supports a review of policies promoting research on the medical use of these compounds," the AAP statement reads. To that end, the group recommends that the DEA reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance to Schedule II.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, the U.S. has five "schedules" for drugs and chemicals that can be used to make drugs. Schedule I is reserved for drugs that the DEA considers to have the highest potential for abuse and no "currently accepted medical use." Marijuana has been classified as Schedule I for decades, along with other substances like heroin and LSD. While a lower schedule for marijuana would not make it legal, it could ease restrictions on researching the drug.
While the AAP added that it does not support the legalization of marijuana, citing the potential harms to children and adolescents, it did say that it "strongly" supports the decriminalization of marijuana use and encourages pediatricians to "advocate for laws that prevent harsh criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana."
"A focus on treatment for adolescents with marijuana use problems should be encouraged, and adolescents with marijuana use problems should be referred to treatment," the statement said.
Monday's statement is the first change to AAP policy on the issue since 2004. At that time, the group did not request a schedule change.
The DEA is the federal agency that is primarily responsible for regulating controlled substances like marijuana. But the Food and Drug Administration, along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, provides the DEA with recommendations about the appropriate level of restriction for various illicit substances.
The FDA is already engaged in a review of the medical evidence surrounding the safety and effectiveness of marijuana. The evaluation was initiated due to a request from the DEA, following a number of citizens' petitions asking for a review. According to the Controlled Substances Act, the government must consider eight factors when deciding the schedule under which a substance should be classified. These include its potential for abuse, the state of current scientific knowledge about the substance and its psychic or physiological dependence liability.
The FDA could not confirm to The Huffington Post how long the review process takes, but expressed support for AAP's move.
"FDA can’t comment on the suggestion to change the schedule for marijuana, as the latest FDA review of the issue -- known as the 8-factor analysis -- is currently ongoing, FDA press officer Jeff Ventura said Monday. "However, FDA agrees with the call by the AAP for rigorous scientific research into the uses of marijuana ... [and] supports those in the medical research community who seek to study marijuana."
The DEA has made previous requests, in 2001 and 2006, to the FDA for an evaluation of marijuana. Those requests were the results of public petitions requesting a rescheduling, FDA Deputy Director Doug Throckmorton explained in testimony delivered during a congressional hearing last year. But DEA regulators determined after both of those reviews that marijuana should remain a Schedule I substance. The FDA cited insufficient available research about marijuana's effectiveness in treating a number of ailments.
While the FDA hasn't advocated for legalization of the drug, it said in a 2014 update to its guidelines on marijuana that it is "aware that there is considerable interest in its use to attempt to treat a number of medical conditions, including, for example, glaucoma, AIDS wasting syndrome, neuropathic pain, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and certain seizure disorders."