Essential medicines and health products

WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence meets to review cannabis and other substances

On 12-16 November the WHO ECDD will meet in Geneva to conclude its review of cannabis and cannabis related substances. This is the first time that the ECDD carries out a full review of cannabis and cannabis-related substances since the International Drug Control Conventions were established in 1961 and 1971. Until now, cannabis has been under the strictest control (schedules 1 and 4) – i.e. at the same level as heroin.

At the meeting, the ECDD is expected to make recommendations about the appropriateness of the current international scheduling of cannabis and cannabis-related substances. The aim of these recommendations is to ensure that international control measures can effectively protect people’s health, in particular the most vulnerable, but do not limit access to cannabis derived products with proven therapeutic properties.

The ECDD conducts risk assessments on substances from a public health perspective; for example, if there is potential for abuse, dependence or harm. The assessments are based on scientific studies and existing evidence. The committee also takes into account proven therapeutic properties of these substances, to ensure that international controls do not penalize patients who may benefit from them.

The recommendations of the 41st ECDD meeting will be communicated to the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on 7 December 2018. Member States who are part of the CND will then vote on whether to accept these recommendations at the 62nd session of CND in March 2019.

Other substances under review

  • Four synthetic cannabinoids
  • Five fentanyl derivatives (while the medical use of fentanyl as pain medication has declined recently, illicit fentanyl and its analogs and derivatives have become a significant part of the larger opioid crisis which has spread across North America and other countries)
  • Tramadol (an opioid pain medication used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain that has increasingly been used as a street drug, particularly in developing countries)
  • Pregabalin (used to treat nerve pain, epilepsy and anxiety, is increasingly being used recreationally, with considerable harm to health).