Skip to main content
Move the World.
FDA Approves the First Marijuana-based Drug

For the first time, the FDA has approved a medicine derived from marijuana for use in the United States. The drug is a purified solution of 100% cannabidiol (or CBD), a naturally occurring compound found in marijuana plants, and it will be used to treat patients with rare, devastating forms of childhood epilepsy.

CBD is not psychoactive, but the DEA still classifies it as a Schedule I controlled substance, just like marijuana, insisting that it has “no accepted medical use” and “a high potential for abuse.” Although the FDA has concluded that CBD does have a medical use (and a “negligible abuse potential”), it’s up to the DEA to reclassify it before it can be sold in pharmacies.

Laws, Seizures, and CBD: Although scientists had thought that CBD might protect against seizures since at least 2004, marijuana laws made researching the plant difficult. But in 2012 and 2013, stories began emerging about kids with Dravet's syndrome (a severe form of childhood epilepsy) dramatically reducing their seizures with CBD. Dozens of states responded by legalizing CBD or expanding their medical access laws to cover epilepsy.

Legal status of CBD in the U.S. under
state law.

Legal status of CBD in the U.S. under
state law. Credit: Gleb Oleinik

Legalization at the state level and greater attention from the public made researching CBD an easier lift, and a number of high-quality studies were launched to see if it could treat epilepsy that wouldn’t respond to other drugs. Ultimately, three gold-standard clinical trials convinced the FDA that CBD does indeed help with intractable seizures. This year marks the first time that a drug made from the marijuana plant itself has been approved as a safe and effective medical treatment.

The DEA Isn't Feeling It: Unfortunately for epilepsy patients, the FDA can approve CBD for medical uses, but the DEA still has the final say over whether it’s legal. If the agency doesn’t move it off the Schedule I list of banned substances, it won’t be hitting pharmacy shelves any time soon. Industry experts and the drug manufacturer who pushed CBD through the FDA approvals process seem confident that the DEA will downgrade it within 90 days.

But, as recently as May, the DEA was fighting tooth and nail in federal court to keep CBD on the Schedule I list. Even stranger, technically CBD has never been a controlled substance—unlike the psychoactive THC compound, which has its own listing, the cannabidiol compound is not mentioned on any list of restricted drugs. Instead, in just 2016, the DEA banned CBD through the backdoor, by declaring it and anything else made from marijuana to be “marijuana extract,” and therefore inherently just as illegal.

How this muddle of science and regulations will play out is anyone's guess, but now the ball is entirely in the DEA's court.

Up Next

Music
Chance the Rapper is Bringing Music Back to Chicago Schools
Chance the Rapper is Bringing Music Back to Chicago Schools
Music
Chance the Rapper is Bringing Music Back to Chicago Schools
On the far South Side of Chicago, as far south as you can get — a traffic light away from neighboring Riverdale —...

On the far South Side of Chicago, as far south as you can get — a traffic light away from neighboring Riverdale — the Ira F. Aldridge Elementary School is offering its students something rare in the forever-strapped Chicago public school system: opportunity. With a grant from Chance the Rapper's charity SocialWorks, the school can now offer a more robust music program, ensuring an instrument in every student's hands. "I...

#fixingjustice - Policing
Do We Need More Police Or Better Police?
Do We Need More Police Or Better Police?
#fixingjustice - Policing
Do We Need More Police Or Better Police?
American cities are safer than they used to be, but they’re still quite violent, and many economists think they’re...

American cities are safer than they used to be, but they’re still quite violent, and many economists think they’re under-policed. More police could help reduce crime, but only if people trust them to do a good job.

#fixingjustice - Policing
Community Policing is Back in Vogue. But Does it Work?
Community Policing is Back in Vogue. But Does it Work?
#fixingjustice - Policing
Community Policing is Back in Vogue. But Does it Work?
As police departments look for ways to rebuild trust with their communities, an increasing number are turning to...
By Natalia Megas

As police departments look for ways to rebuild trust with their communities, an increasing number are turning to new community policing programs. But are they effective? As with most things, it depends on what you measure.

Social Entrepreneurs
Breaking Abuse Victims’ Financial Handcuffs
Breaking Abuse Victims’ Financial Handcuffs
Watch Now
Social Entrepreneurs
Breaking Abuse Victims’ Financial Handcuffs
This amazing organization is doing whatever it takes to help domestic violence victims survive on their own.
Watch Now

Often the biggest barrier to leaving an abusive relationship is its cost. Without the means to support themselves or their children, or as a result of economic abuse, many people end up suffering domestic violence for far too long. FreeFrom was founded by Sonya Passi, a law student who’d co-founded the Family Violence Appellate Project to provide pro-bono legal representation for survivors of domestic violence. She...

An App to Help Prevent Suicide
An App to Help Prevent Suicide
Watch Now
An App to Help Prevent Suicide
Meet the teens who built the notOK App: a "panic button" for people who need help.
Watch Now

After her struggle with disease lead to a suicide attempt, she came up with an idea for an app to help desperate people reach out. Her brother helped write notOK, an app that works like a panic button to help people having suicidal thoughts quickly reach out to trusted contacts for support. When the user hits the button, it both sends the contacts a message asking them to get in touch and sends them the user’s location so...

Dispatches
“I'd Like to Build My Own Coffin”
“I'd Like to Build My Own Coffin”
Dispatches
“I'd Like to Build My Own Coffin”
How the founders of the "coffin clubs" got started – and their advice for others.

How the founders of the "coffin clubs" got started – and their advice for others.

Wrong
Is Vitamin C a Total Sham
Is Vitamin C a Total Sham
Watch Now
Wrong
Is Vitamin C a Total Sham
In the heart of cold and flu season, it's natural to reach for the Vitamin C. But we may want to think twice. While...
Watch Now

In the heart of cold and flu season, it's natural to reach for the Vitamin C. But we may want to think twice. While it has ballooned into a billion dollar business and crystallized as an all-powerful supplement in our collective conscious, countless studies have showed that Vitamin C’s ability to cure is questionable at best, and may even increase your risk for certain diseases. Did we all really get Vitamin C totally...wrong?

On The Cusp
This Week in Ideas: Why D.A.R.E. Didn't Work, the Future of Cities, and is Love...
This Week in Ideas: Why D.A.R.E. Didn't Work, the Future of Cities, and is Love Actually Actually Good?
On The Cusp
This Week in Ideas: Why D.A.R.E. Didn't Work, the Future of Cities, and is Love...
Our weekly take on the best stuff from around the web.
By Mike Riggs

Our weekly take on the best stuff from around the web.

On The Cusp
This Week in Ideas: The End of Checkout Lines, Photoshopping Your Voice, and a New...
This Week in Ideas: The End of Checkout Lines, Photoshopping Your Voice, and a New Way to Pay for a Ride
On The Cusp
This Week in Ideas: The End of Checkout Lines, Photoshopping Your Voice, and a New...
Amazon's new grocery store, Adobe's new tech can make you say anything, and pay for the bus by watching an ad.
By Mike Riggs

Amazon's new grocery store, Adobe's new tech can make you say anything, and pay for the bus by watching an ad.