The FDA Says It Will Likely Never Approve Smoking Cannabis

The federal agency joins a community of health experts who think smoking is not a good way to consume weed.

May 30, 2018
FDA Scott Gottlieb testifies during a Senate hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – APRIL 05: FDA Commissioner-designate Scott Gottlieb testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on April 5, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

The commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, recently suggested that the agency would never approve of smoking cannabis. This opposition to smoking is shared by many health experts, even those who approve of medical cannabis in general.

In Canada, which is slated to legalize cannabis for adult use this fall, physicians have also issued warnings about consuming cannabis by smoking it. One doctor called smoking “very archaic,” in an interview with the CBC. Others have said that smoking cannabis is dangerous for your lungs, and urged consumers to consider alternate methods of consumption such as oral extracts.

“Many of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke are also found in cannabis smoke,” reads Health Canada’s website.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Gottlieb likened smoking cannabis to crushing up a prescription pill and smoking it. Using the lungs as an entry point for a drug, said Gottlieb, “isn’t optimal.”

This opinion has been reflected in some state laws, too, where cannabis flower has been legalized for medical purposes yet patients are not technically allowed to smoke it. While unenforceable, these laws are intended to encourage vaping instead.

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Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of the FDA, speaking at The Wall Street Journal Health Forum in Washington, DC on May 22, 2018.

The statement by the FDA commissioner does not mean the FDA won’t be approving the consumption of cannabis, in general, in the future. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for the federal agency to deny the medical potential of cannabis.

Recently, a panel of outside advisers to the FDA unanimously agreed that the benefits of a drug made by GW Pharmaceuticals, which uses the cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD), outweighed its risks when treating forms of rare childhood epilepsy.

CBD, particularly as a treatment for epileptic seizures, is one of the most commonly accepted forms of medical cannabis. Last year, the United Nation’s World Health Organization released a report that concluded that CBD could have “therapeutic value” and “exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential.”

The FDA will likely decide on whether to approve GW Pharmaceuticals’ new CBD-based drug for public use by the end of June. If the drug, called Epidiolex, is approved, it will become the first ever FDA-sanctioned cannabis-derived medication in the country. 

May 30, 2018