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WHO’s first scientific review of medicinal Cannabis: from global struggle to patient implications

Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli (Independent Researcher, based at Barcelona, Spain and FAAAT think and do tank, Paris, France)
Michael Alan Krawitz (Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, Elliston, Virginia, USA and FAAAT think and do tank, Paris, France)

Drugs, Habits and Social Policy

ISSN: 2752-6739

Article publication date: 15 March 2022

Issue publication date: 5 August 2022




“Cannabis” and “cannabis resin” are derived from the Cannabis plant, used as herbal medications, in traditional medicine and as active pharmaceutical ingredients. Since 1961, they have been listed in Schedule IV, the most restrictive category of the single convention on narcotic drugs. The process to scientifically review and reschedule them was launched by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 2 December 2016; it survived a number of hindrances until finally being submitted to a delayed and sui generis vote by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs on 2 December 2020, withdrawing “cannabis” and “cannabis resin” from Schedule IV.


To evaluate WHO’s scheduling recommendations, the process leading to the Commission vote and subsequent implications at global, national and patient/clinician levels. Narrative account of the four-year proceedings; review of the practical implications of both rejected and accepted recommendations.


The process was historically unprecedented, of political relevance to both medical Cannabis and evidence-based scheduling generally. Procedural barriers hampered the appropriate involvement of civil society stakeholders. The landscape resulting from accepted and rejected recommendations allow countries to continue creating decentralised, non-uniform systems for access to and availability of “cannabis” and “cannabis resin” for medical purposes.


Perspective of accredited observers; highlight of institutional issues and the lay of the land; contrast of stakeholders’ interpretations and engagement.



The authors wish to thank: Farid Ghehiouèche; Axel Klein; current and former UN and WHO staff; civil society stakeholders that accompanied, supported or provided constructive criticism; Le bain des Pâquis (Geneva), now-closed IOM cafeteria (Geneva); Kuku bar (Vienna); private Cannabis Social Club La Crème Gràcia (Barcelona); UN libraries (Geneva and Vienna). Funding: This research received support via open-ended donations to the non-profits FAAAT (France) and UDRCNet Foundation (USA). This research received funding via open-ended donations to the non-profits FAAAT (France) and DRCNet Foundation (USA) and to patreon.con/teluobir.


Riboulet-Zemouli, K. and Krawitz, M.A. (2022), "WHO’s first scientific review of medicinal Cannabis: from global struggle to patient implications", Drugs, Habits and Social Policy, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 5-21.



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