As some of you may or may not know, the Doctor Frank team were in the UK last week to try and get medical cannabis legalized. Although we did well, and it definitely seems that the UK government is moving forward on this issue, it does seem as if they’re dragging their heels on the issue. Yes, in cases such as Billy Caldwell’s, licences have been granted, but for others in the same situation, waiting for a licence is just not possible.
Keeping medical cannabis illegal means that many patients and their carers will carry on being forced to choose between prison or leading a liveable life. How can it be ethical to deny someone a lifesaving medication just because that medication comes from a plant that is illegal? Moreover, in comparison to many drugs (prescription or otherwise), cannabis is far more well-tolerated, far safer and has fewer side-effects.
So, why is the UK government taking its time in updating its laws and recognizing the medical benefits that cannabis could potentially provide? Well, there could be a few reasons. One is that many people believe that medical cannabis is a stepping stone to legalized recreational use. There is a simple argument against this. Medical-grade opioids are already prescribed and controlled, so applying a similar rationale to cannabinoids should not prove too difficult.
Another factor is the medical evidence. Many doctors and scientists – rightfully – want to see hard proof in clinical trials and so on. Now, this is a perfectly understandable position to take, but it does seem just a little bit convenient that we apply such high standards of evidence to cannabinoids when we do not use such high standards for other drugs.
There are around 20,000 references to “marijuana”, “cannabis” or “cannabinoids” on PubMed. There is a history of medical use of cannabis, stretching back hundreds if not thousands of years. We have a huge number of in vitro, in vivo, anecdotal, and yes, even a good number of actual controlled studies. Although there are some health concerns with cannabis, all the evidence so far suggests that it is generally quite safe.
On top of all this, we all have an endocannabinoid system (ECS) – a system that plays a fundamental role in homeostasis. The body of science is large enough to suggest that we should definitely start researching the medical potential of the cannabis plant more extensively. Denying the science is denying reality. To think otherwise essentially means restricting people’s access to medicine, and may be effectively signing people’s death warrants.
The third, most cynical reason why medical cannabis is being kept illegal is simple: money. GW Pharmaceuticals is, at the moment, the world’s largest exporter of medical cannabis. GW Pharmaceuticals has, shall we say, some interesting ties to the UK government, with British Sugar growing cannabis for GW Pharmaceuticals. Drugs minister, Victoria Atkins, is married to Paul Kenward, boss of British Sugar. Theresa May’s husband, Phillip May, is part of Capitol Group, who are GW Pharmaceutical’s largest investor. To many, this seems suspiciously like trying to keep the cannabis plant under the control of big businesses.
As it stands, GW Pharmaceutical has a monopoly on medical cannabis in the UK, and it is definitely arguable that their financial and political backing influences the way other companies the world over are treated by law enforcement and the legal system. Even in the U.S., it looks as if the only federally legal way of getting high-quality CBD oil may be Epidiolex, which is developed by GW Pharmaceuticals. Why will the FDA allow GW Pharmaceuticals to do clinical trials, but prevent others from doing so?
There does seem to be an aspect of “we want to keep this plant for ourselves and our buddies, and we don’t want you to have it.” As cannabis is a hardy plant that can grow in many environments, the only way to keep control of it is by making it illegal. Sadly, companies having a monopoly also means that better, more reasonably priced medications do not get developed.
In the meantime, parents like Tommy McNally are left to their own devices. Due to the “homemade” nature of some of the cannabinoid-based medications patients need to ascertain, getting a standardized dose is very difficult. Added to this is the fact that there are many parents, caregivers and patients who cannot make such specialized medications, falling prey to charlatans and those who do not how to make safe products.
Forcing people to break the law to save and/or better the lives of their loved ones is an unconscionable position, and one that no person should have to go through. Cannabis is medicine, and it is truly a “people’s plant”. We should not be making it illegal for sick and injured people to access it, wherever they are in the world.