Medicinal Cannabis Will Never Be Legalised In The UK

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In the summer of 2016, while everyone was out and about enjoying the sun I was sitting in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV receiving chemotherapy.

While feeling a natural sense of self-loathing and boredom, the only other thing running in mind was ‘Dammit I could really do with a joint right now’.

It’s easy to view marijuana as a recreational substance, and while there is a valid debate as to whether it should be legalised and decriminalised for said purpose, there’s a legitimate counter-argument that it hinders the discussion in regards to its medical benefits.

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Research and case studies have consistently shown the medical benefits of cannabis, the latest was compiled in 2015 by Peter Reynolds of the campaign group CLEAR, a group who want a reform on the UK’s cannabis laws.

Compiling the results and studies from respected institutes and publications such as the University of Bonn and the British Journal of Pharmacology, it’s evidently clear the banned substance has a beneficial effect for serious illness such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and Chron’s disease.

Their study points to Professor Steven Fagan of the University of Dublin who was discussing the benefits of THC for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s.

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In 2014 Fagan said:

Pharmacological modulation of the endocannabinoid system has been shown to reduce chronic activation of the neuroinflammatory response, aid in Ca2+ homeostasis, reduce oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction and the resulting proapoptotic cascade, while promoting neurotrophic support.

It’s one of the many studies which supports the theory it can help with terminal illnesses, medicinal cannabis is already standard practice in most states across America, and is even being used to help military veterans who suffer from PTSD.

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According to a recent study, a non-psychoactive component in cannabis known as CBD has a positive effect on the chemicals in the brain when it reacts with serotonin, interrupting the process in the brain when it tries to produce negative thoughts and memories.

For those who have been or are currently going through cancer, such as myself, the link between it and cannabis is synonymous. Cases such a Joy Smith’s, who credits cannabis oil to cure her cancer, and the US government last year admitting it can kill cancer cells means there is an obvious progression in the fight to cure the disease once considered a death sentence.

Furthermore, like the military veterans who use cannabis to deal with PTSD, the same substance is said to help cancer patients who are trying to cope with depression and anxiety. According to CLEAR’s study, it can ‘help alleviate anxiety, depression, insomnia and mood disorders in cancer patients’. However, the study does state these are ‘anecdotal reports’ and ‘some patients may find… opposite results’.

While cannabis is legal and/or decriminalised, on a medical and/or recreational level in countries such as Germany, Canada and Zambia, countries like the United Kingdom still refuse to legalise it medicinally.

When approached for a comment regarding cannabis’ medical benefits Julia Frater from Cancer Research UK told UNILAD:

We don’t advise patients to use cannabis oil or any alternative therapies to treat cancer. Standard medical treatments for cancer are all evidence-based, so they have been tested to see how safe and effective they are.

Some ‘natural’ remedies can interfere with medical treatment so it’s really important that patients speak to their doctor before making any decisions.

Speaking to Paul North, Head of Communications for Volteface – a think tank that looks at alternatives to current drug policies, he says the reason why the UK hasn’t budged on reviewing its policy is because:

… the UK has for a number of years now been light years behind when it comes to drug policy. While other countries have embraced a new and emerging market our government has continued to stay in the dark ages.

Despite a resistance from government, there is something to be said for the way in which medicinal cannabis has emerged in the US, and a valid scepticism around it being a front for what is, in essence, a recreational market.

The government will always take a stance on an issue which the public appear engaged with, but to date, medicinal cannabis seems to be a fringe issue.

We only have around 2 million cannabis users in the UK, and although hundreds of thousands may benefit from a medicinal cannabis market public awareness, education and evidence are relatively new.

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The British government’s stance on medical cannabis would be understandable and accepted if not for the fact the country is one of the biggest producers of legal cannabis in the world. Last month it was discovered the UK produced 95 tonnes of legal cannabis in 2016, more than double the amount of the previous year, according to a report from the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board.

This production accounted for 44.9 per cent of the world total, so it begs the question: Is not hypocritical for the UK government to have this stance on cannabis – particularly when it can be so beneficial for those going through a serious illness – and still be one of the highest producers while they refuse to consider legalising and/or decriminalising?

North agrees:

There is certainly some hypocrisy here and questions are rightly being asked of the government. The evidence base for medicinal cannabis can no longer be denied. There is no doubt we should jump on the opportunity to change policy and have such grows and expertise close on home soil.

Change though will occur through more constructive ways of engaging Government. When that story broke a few mainstream media outlets covered it but did not hit with enough gravity to have the government confront it directly.

The reality of medicinal cannabis is that it is a multi-billion pound market with vast sums of money to be made from reform. The days of grass-roots activism which does not have a strong business backing is not going to be enough.

What will succeed, and what is taking place right now, is the vast sums of money to be made from reform and turning the wheels of lobbying and campaigning.

We might be behind the rest of Europe at the moment, but as the market spreads the profit to be made by investment groups, business and governments will be enough. Money is the key and the cannabis market has it in abundance.

If we are to proceed with the discussion of legalisation for medicinal purposes then it needs to be separated from the discussion to legalise it for recreational use. North says we need to talk about cannabis as if it was a medicine, not a recreational substance, in order to create a productive discussion for reform.

He believes:

… the resistance to reform comes from a misunderstanding that a medicinal market just results in people turning up to their GP with a prescription for 1g of cannabis for anxiety or joint pain.

To create reform here a medical market needs to look at it like medicine. I have had a lot of stick from the cannabis community for having this view, but getting stoned every day does not fix anxiety or depression, it becomes a distraction.

While it might feel like it’s helping an individual, in my view (based on nine years of working in drug treatment centres) it’s just covering it up. While cannabis might be less damaging to your body than alcohol or heroin, the relationship of escape is no different.

The argument for a regulated, legal cannabis market helps establish a clear boundary. Medical cannabis should look and feel like medicine and recreational use should be used for pleasure not to escape.

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The state of California is a model example to consider. In 1996, long before legalisation for recreational purposes, they won a long fought battle to became the first state to legalise the substance medicinally. By pursuing a medicinal avenue, other states followed their example, sparking a trend which has now resulted in wider legalisation and decriminalisation for recreational purposes.

If the UK follows this path, drowning out the noise to legalise recreationally from the likes of Black The Ripper and his Dank of England collective, Russell Brand and Richard Branson (who should be remembered for also owning Virgin Healthcare) then maybe we will start to see progress for both the medicinal and recreational side.