Clyde Life article – April 2018

I was a child in the 1960s and maybe because of that my perspective of cannabis is one of a leafy plant that when the leaves are dried can be smoked to get high. All sorts of hippy connotations spring to mind. Peace, love and transcendental meditation. In-fact the cannabis plant is a form of the hemp plant and there are many variations available. They tend to be graded by the amount of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol is one of at least 113 cannabinoids identified in cannabis and is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis) and CBD (Cannabidiol) that they contain. The balance of THC and CBD determines the effect of the product. People have been smoking cannabis recreationally for centuries and for many years people have been smoking cannabis to relieve pain associated with a range of illnesses including Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and certain cancers. This has blurred the lines between recreational and medicinal use. I want to concentrate on medicinal cannabis. Today throughout the United Kingdom people purchase cannabis based products, oils, sprays and tablets to help alleviate pain. Products can be purchased from such well known outlets as Amazon. They can be delivered to your door and consumed in the privacy of your own home. There is a legal cannabis-derived prescription drug called Sativex (produced by GW Pharmaceuticals) but it is prohibitively expensive and was found to be ‘not sufficiently effective’ by NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). As a result the drug, administered as a spray under the tongue, isn’t available in England and Scotland on the NHS.

But because cannabis is registered as a class B drug under the misuse of drugs act 1971 in the United Kingdom, people buying it or using it are breaking the law and are liable to be prosecuted. The result is that they purchase and consume a product that is not regulated for safety or effectiveness. The outcome can’t be predicted and the cost is entirely at the seller’s discretion.

Medicinal cannabis is legal in 29 of the States of America, Canada, Austria, Czech Republic, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland and many other countries. The laws and application of these laws vary but the premise is the same, medicinal cannabis provides effective help for people who are suffering. Making it legal is a humane thing to do.

In the United Kingdom there have been some high profile cases where legal cannabis has been sought via permission from the Home Office. Cases including Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley. In both these cases young children were suffering seizures which were damaging them. The quantity and severity of these seizures were dramatically decreased through the use of cannabis-derived products. Both families had sought and found such products outside the United Kingdom but could not get access to effective products legally in the United Kingdom. At the time of writing this, Billy’s family have managed to find a doctor that is licensed to and is willing to prescribe THC/CBD and a pharmacist prepared to produce the required medicine. Alfie’s family is still at loggerheads with the Home Office, although they are investigating possibilities. My issue is that there are thousands of Billy’s and Alfie’s. Each with families struggling to find the correct medicines to ease the pain of their loved ones, while knowing that a change in the law would accommodate their needs.

If we were to legalise cannabis for medicinal purposes it would be assessed for quality and effectiveness, it would be designed or tailored to specific illnesses, it would be regulated and taxed.

I am not asking for the law to permit people to grow their own weed just as I don’t advocate people having their own gin production facility in their kitchen. I am asking for a legally regulated business that produces medicine in laboratories from the cannabinoids extracted from commercially grown plants. Each product could be designed for a specific illness and the distribution, prescription and use would be monitored and controlled. The UK Government still maintains there is no therapeutic value attached to medicinal cannabis and yet it grants a licence to British Sugar to grow it and provide the raw product to pharmaceutical companies. The UK Government can no longer continue to ride two horses either it’s effective in which case it must be legalised or it’s not in which case we shouldn’t be growing it and selling it to pharmaceutical companies.

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