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It’s Time To End Schedule I

This article is neither for, nor against, legalization, and it is neither for, nor against, decriminalization. The focus of this article is on the very reasonable and feasible goal of simply reclassifying a number of drugs. Perhaps there is something of common ground amongst supporters of legalization and decriminalization, with those that oppose these things. Perhaps we can all agree that there are many benefits to the study of drugs – all drugs – to determine potential medical benefits for prescriptions from doctors to their patients.

According to the website for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Schedule I drugs are defined in the following manner:

“Substances in this schedule have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.

Some examples of substances listed in Schedule I are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), peyote, methaqualone, and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (“Ecstasy”).”

There is an inherent assumption in the DEA’s scheduling that any drugs listed as Schedule I have no currently-accepted medical use. That is a big assumption. It is this assumption that makes the study of such drugs just so difficult. It’s like saying you shouldn’t study philosophy because we don’t think it’s useful, but if it’s incredibly difficult to study philosophy because of this decision, then it’s hard to determine whether it’s useful. It’s very circular logic that ultimately doesn’t make very much sense.

An assignment of Schedule I to a drug makes it very difficult to acquire for legitimate lab study, and the regulations regarding its storage, accessibility, and treatment make it both expensive and unwieldy to study. In some cases, labs find it extremely expensive and difficult to acquire, and must choose between acquiring the actual drug or attempting to create it synthetically, leading to possibly misleading study results.

In the December 2016 publication of the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the results of a study were released on the effect of what is commonly called “magic mushrooms” on cancer patients for the treatment of their depression and anxiety. The mushrooms themselves were not available for the study, but psilocybin, believed to be responsible for the psychoactive effects, was synthesized and used. The study found that a single treatment, an hours-long drug trip, had a success rate of treating the depression and anxiety for more than 70% of the patients, compared to only 40% when using current anti-depressants. The effect lasted for months, off a single treatment. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 7% of people suffer from clinical depression and anxiety; an enormous health issue might have been addressed perhaps decades ago if such substances weren’t so restricted for study.

While cannabis still remains classified as a Schedule I drug, its legalization or decriminalization in many states has led to greater accessibility for legitimate lab study, and plenty of groundbreaking work in the field of medicine is underway as a result of this.  New uses are being discovered, many of which even eliminate the THC (the active ingredient providing the high) from the drug. That’s something that might not have been possible, or may have been many more years away, if it weren’t for the changes at the state level that is many ways circumvented by the DEA’s scheduling because of decisions not to pursue prosecution in states that have made the drugs legal.

The main point is that how can the DEA possibly know whether a drug could have accepted medical use, if they do not remove barriers for adequate study of the drug? What purpose does it really serve to even have a Schedule I category? Schedule II substances are illegal outside of prescriptions, but are at least available for study, after all.

What purpose does it serve for the DEA to stand in the way of medical professionals and the people who need treatment? If the medical professionals believe certain treatments are beneficial to the people who need them, well-informed patients, along with their doctors, are perfectly capable of making such decisions. They do not need those who are less informed about their own treatments to tell them which should be considered medically useful and which should not.

At this point, we have no idea which substances could lead to the next big medical breakthrough.  There is nothing to be gained from having any substance further limited to study. Eliminating the Schedule I classification holds nothing but benefit for the United States and its citizens.

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Danny Chabino

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