In a new move for the group, the American Academy of Pediatrics is asking the US Drug Enforcement Agency to reclassify medical marijuana in order to conduct more research concerning benefits of the drug for children. The group would also like to see the drug be made available on a compassionate use basis to those who have debilitating or life-threatening diseases.
The group updated its 2004 policy statement on the drug, saying it could have potential use as a medical treatment for children "with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions for whom current therapies are inadequate."
The AAP would like to see the drug taken off the DEA's Schedule 1 listing for controlled substances. Drugs on that list are not considered to have any "currently accepted medical use in the U.S., a lack of accepted safety for under medical supervision and a high potential for abuse," and include such drugs as heroin, acid and ecstasy.
The group wants the drug to be included on the Schedule 2 listing instead, which include drugs that are considered to have a "high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence," which include drugs used for medical purposes such as oxycodone, morphine and codeine, writes Ed Silverman for The Wall Street Journal.
A Schedule 1 listing means there's no medical use or helpful indications, but we know that's not true because there has been limited evidence showing [marijuana] may be helpful for certain conditions in adults," says Seth Ammerman, a clinical professor in pediatrics at Stanford University and a member of the AAP national committee on substance abuse, who co-authored the new policy statement.
"By placing this on Schedule 2, it would allow the FDA to be involved [in pediatric research] as the agency is in any study. Unless scheduling changes, this won't happen. And there could be therapeutic benefits. The AAP is not opposed to medical marijuana, per se, but we feel it's important that this be explored within the [framework of the] FDA process, where you have standardization."
The recommendation is welcome to the 200 or more families that recently moved to Colorado after the state legalized the drug in an effort to find a cure for their sick children. Remedies include one known as Charlotte's Web, a marijuana strain shown to control seizures in some children, writes Bill Briggs for NBC News.
Epilepsy remains high on the list of conditions which may benefit from marijuana. The Epilepsy Foundation asked the DEA to reclassify the drug last year so that more research could be conducted. After the drug became legal in some states, reports of marijuana may be helpful in the reduction of the number or frequency of seizures has been on the rise.
For example, Charlotte's Web is created with low levels of cannabinoid THC, which causes people to feel high, replacing that with higher levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, which does not show these effects. A medical trial showed CBD could have possible effects on people with Parkinson's Disease, although more research in the area is needed.
It is unclear how or if the Obama administration will consider making these changes. A number of proposals and recommendations have been made concerning the change for years now. A review was proposed in 2008 by the American College of Physicians. However, the federal government had been unwilling to make the changes due to a debate concerning the type of scientific evidence that would warrant such a change.
Despite the fact that 23 states have already legalized the drug for people who have recommendations from their physicians for its use, there is currently no legal use for the drug on a federal level. The DEA is asking the FDA to conduct an analysis jn order to determine whether or not the drug should be put on the Schedule 2 listing. Attorney General Eric Holder said the placement of marijuana in the same grouping as drugs such as heroin is "certainly a question that we need to ask ourselves."
Last year, the DEA approved an increase in the amount of medical marijuana that could be used by researchers for case studies.
In the meantime, the AAP's recommendation is helping to strengthen the national debate over the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
"Most people realize AAP advocacy is for the well-being of children," says Ammerman. "As pediatricians, we're into prevention and early intervention. So having this voice will be important. We're advocating for the kids and if it leads to research that establishes [that marijuana offers] a benefit – whoever conducts the research – then what we're doing could help improve pediatric care."
The AAP holds firm on their belief that marijuana remain illegal for children and adolescents under the age of 21, and continues to stand against the legalization of the drug for recreational use, although it is asking for the decriminalization of the drug, encouraging physicians "to advocate for laws that prevent harsh criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana." The group suggests that use of marijuana by youth is a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue.
The revised policy is expected to be published in the March edition of the journal Pediatrics.