Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer, yesterday made the outrageous claim that “we know [THC] has an impact on the brain and causes depression, schizophrenia [and] brain development problems in young and adolescents” as she complained to the Health and Social Care Select Committee that the legalisation of cannabis medicine had “opened a Pandora’s box” because “there is a belief that it works for many conditions”.
She said that while she “understood the desperation of parents” she had “safety concerns” about prescribing cannabis medicine. “If a pregnant mother was taking it i’d be very worried,” she said.
Dame Sally claimed there is currently insufficient evidence to prove cannabis medicine is both effective and safe, saying that until widespread trials had been completed medicinal cannabis should only be prescribed as a “last resort”
The ban on cannabis medicine before 1 November last year hadprevented any clinical trials taking place, without which the medicinal cannabis products cannot formally be licensed.
It means doctors who prescribe the products enjoy less legal protection if something goes wrong.
Dame Sally said that studies in animals suggest that for some patients medicinal cannabis may worsen convulsions, however she added that other research suggested the products were safe and beneficial.
“I really hope we can do the [randomised control] trials, because without these how can we help the patients?” she said.
Prof Mike Barnes, Chair of the Medical Cannabis Clinicians’ Society, told the committee that standard pharmaceutical trials could not be easily applied to cannabis, as it is not a single molecule that can be compared to a placebo or a dummy pill. He said a range of approaches needed to be taken when considering the evidence.
“There are 2500 varieties of cannabis, each with a different structure of cannabinoids and terpenes each with subtle differences. Which would you pick for the standardised model? Cannabis is not just cannabis, it is a whole family of plants,” he said.
Peter Carroll of the campaign group End Our Pain, said he was “shocked and horrified” that so few patients had benefited from the law change since November, including children with severe epilepsy, whose parents were currently sourcing the drugs elsewhere. He said waiting years for randomised control trials to finish was “absurd”.
For the Chief Medical Officer to being spreading misinformation about THC – whether deliberately or not – is seriously worrying. THC has been proven to be more therapeutic than CBD. Numerous studies have proven that cannabinoids are effective treatment for epilepsy. And there is no evidence that cannabis causes schizophrenia, depression or harms brain development. In any case children with epilepsy need very small doses and as parents have pointed out seizures from untreated epilepsy do cause brain damage.
We urge Dame Sally to rethink her comments and put the record straight.
Meanwhile, End Our Pain took a petition to Downing Street yesterday asking the government to urgently address childrens’ need for cannabis medicine.
It was signed by a number of MPs and Lord, includings: Jo Platt (Labour), Baroness Walmsley (Lib Dems), Nic Dakin (Labour), Emma Hardy (Labour), Ben Bradshaw (Labour), Lisa Cameron (SNP), Sandy Martin (Labour), Stuart McDonald (SNP), Stephen Twigg (Labour), Ronnie Cowan (SNP), James Cartlidge (Conservatives), Mohammad Yasin (Labour), Alistair Carmichael (Lib Dems), Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Labour), Mark Field (Conservatives), Norman Lamb (Lib Dems), Tommy Shepherd (SNP), Drew Hendry (SNP), Carolyn Harris (Labour), Stephen Timms (Labour), Philippa Whitford (SNP), Henry Smith (Conservatives), Geraint Davies (Labour), Andy Slaughter (Labour), Tonia Antoniazzi (Labour), Alan Brown (SNP), Bambos Charalambous (Labour), Tom Brake (Lib Dems), Eleanor Smith (Labour), Stephen Kinnock (Labour), Scott Mann (Conservatives), Jim Cunningham (Conservatives), Vince Cable (Lib Dems), Kevin Brennan (Labour), Roger Gale (Conservatives), David Amess (Conservatives), Preet Kaur (Labour), Cat Smith (Labour), Jim Shannon (DUP), Alberto Costa (Conservatives), Patrick Grady (SNP).