By the end of the year, a cocaine derivative will be legal thanks to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's decision to pluck it from the list of controlled substances, but there's no sign yet that the agency has similar plans for cannabis.
The DEA published a final rule change in the Federal Register on Nov. 21 removing several chemical compounds, including [18 F]FP-CIT, from the Controlled Substances Act's schedule of controlled substances.
"This action removes the regulatory controls and administrative, civil, and criminal sanctions applicable to controlled substances, including those specific to schedule II controlled substances, on persons who handle (manufacture, distribute, reverse distribute, dispense, engage in research, import, export, conduct instructional activities or chemical analysis with, or possess) or propose to handle [the substance]," the agency said in its final rule.
Until Dec. 21, the compound will remain a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning the DEA classifies it as a drug with some medicinal use but with a high likelihood of abuse. Other drugs classified as Schedule II include morphine and raw opium. In some states, simple unlawful possession of a Schedule II substance is a felony.
Cannabis, which is now legal for medical use in nearly 40 states, recreational use in 21 states and decriminalized in another 10, still lingers on the DEA's controlled substances list as a Schedule I drug, meaning the strictest and heaviest regulations apply and it's still illegal on a federal level.
In response to comments comparing the removal of [18F]FP-CIT to cannabis, the DEA was dismissive, especially to the argument that this move would "wrongly signal that cocaine is less harmful than cannabis."
"DEA does not agree with the commenter's concern about harm," the agency said. "[18F]FP-CIT is derived from cocaine, a schedule II substance, via ecgonine, a schedule II substance."
On top of that, the derivative would not find its way into the hands of just anyone, but rather labs that already handle very sensitive materials would be the primary users, the DEA said.
"[18F]FP-CIT will be restricted to nuclear medicine departments and radiopharmacies authorized to handle radioactive substances," the government said.
The agency noted that six comments approved the drug's removal, with four of them noting that [18F]FP-CIT has a potential therapeutic benefit in diagnosing Parkinson's disease.