As awareness grows of the use of cannabis in the treatment of a growing list of diseases and disorders the push for patients to get their medicine is getting stronger.
Campaigners and patients have been attacking the prohibition that sets them aside from their medicine via avenues in the healthcare system, and politically through local MPs up to the Ministerial level. The trend to sympathise with the patients is catching on, but whether a full understanding of the impact that a change in the law would have for these people isn’t quite clear, at least by those in senior positions.
The term Medical Marijuana, as our American cousins have referred to it for the previous 20 years, has taken on many forms across each of the 23 states that have voted in laws to exempt patients that need to use cannabis for a limited to an unlimited list of conditions. While many will be aware that California and Colorado have Medical Marijuana laws, the difference in their individual regulation is dramatic and they aren’t the only two examples that need to be considered and learned from.
New Jersey has had MMJ since 20___ and despite being known as “the garden state” actually prevents patients from growing their own Cannabis. That’s right, the garden state of America won’t allow you to have your own medical garden. Despite there being options for patients, they aren’t convenient enough, the black market still wins and disabled patients still get warrants served on them for their homes to be invaded in SWAT style raids because they have grown their own.
Now, no one should really be against the idea of authorised dispensaries or cannabis pharmacies registered or licensed by the Health Service. But if it was restricted to a few of these that had to cater to potentially 100,000 patients then logistically patients are going to have to go without due to distance to travel and just how many patients can be cared for by one pharmacy with limited cannabis variety. This is the sort situation in the state of…
To add to the misfortune of many patients in the US who have fought for the right to medicate with cannabis for the last 20 years there’s been a huge shift in the way the public have been sold the idea cannabis medicine. Florida and several.other states have put forward bills to allow CBD only cannabis oil to be exempt from state and local marijuana laws.
This is in any circumstances a win for the patients that will receive that high CBD cannabis oil, mainly epileptic children that have 1000s of seizures in a single week. That cannot be argued with. But if you extrapolate that and look it in the context that this insinuates that herbal cannabis and, more importantly, THC is not medical, then people who are using it to treat their conditions are still considered criminals and still face the harsh federal penalties. You don’t get a fine and suspended sentence for cannabis in Florida, you go to prison, medical use or not.
Dr Sanjay Gupta, as loud and as good as his message has been on cannabis as medicine, has allowed there to be a mainstream spin on what is acceptable as medical cannabis use. In no way was this his intention though.
The story of 3 year old Charlotte Figi, who suffers from Dravets syndrome (a rare form of epilepsy) really opened up the floodgates of “cannabis is medicine…and it doesn’t have to get you high” because it was happening right there and working within minutes on a child with only positive effects. Charlotte is not the only one yet she has become the most talked about during this huge media fanfare around CBD cannabis oil for pediatric treatments.
Because of this there has been massive migration by families in Charlottes situation to states like Colorado where high CBD cannabis oil is more available. So much so that medical cannabis centres in the state have had to expand to be able to meet the serious and high demand for these desperate families and children. And it’s because if this that states like Florida are pushing through CBD only medical bills.
The oil will come from GW Pharmaceuticals in the UK to the Universities that will administer and treat the patients in a clinical fashion. The oil has to be kept in a special safe so that no one unauthorised can access it despite it being non lethal and having no potential for abuse – unlike the vast array of opiate medications and antiseizure drugs that these poor epileptic children have to use multiple times daily. This was not needed in other states where children are accessing it quickly and it’s working. Two children under these forced waiting circumstances have died in the last few weeks. If this doesn’t send a shockwave message to our leaders that time is of the essence just what will?
Now, this all sounds great for the patients that get it on the surface, but if you talk to the patients who have been campaigning for this it isn’t what they want to see and that’s not borne out of anything selfish.
What has to be considered when campaigning for patients and cannabis is that patients access to medicinal quality cannabis should be less restricted and put in a system that makes sure it meets the correct standards if it is being produced by a caregiver or cannabis pharmacy type dispensary. Allowing patients to grow their own and have access to quality testing for strength and contamination should not be forgotten or dismissed and can run perfectly well alongside a well structured and regulated medical cannabis cultivation model.
This also doesn’t mean that there can’t be or shouldn’t be the pharmaceutical version of cannabis. For some people products like Sativex are preferable to smoking, vapourising or using medicated edibles. But equally there is a vast number of Sativex candidates or those who have or have had a prescription that will testify that it doesn’t have the same positive impact herbal cannabis has. A number of trials also back this up showing that Sativex is not hugely effective in moderate to severe MS, whilst people growing their own cannabis and making their own oil are coming off of large numbers of opiate and immunosuppressive drugs from their own doing, at no cost to the NHS or taxpayer.
Arguing for Medical Cannabis though, can put the opportunity to heal oneself further out of reach. GW Pharmaceuticals are already licensed to produce 30-60 tonnes of cannabis a year by the Home Office and they are the ones providing the CBD only cannabis oil to Universities in Florida to treat children instead of allowing people to grow their own.
Medical grade cannabis does not have to be produced by a Pharmaceutical company but the work and research that pharmaceutical companies can, and do, do is vitally important to understanding the pharmacological mechanisms that show.and prove just how cannabis works and will lead us to being able to treat a whole plethora of diseases and disorders more effectively than has been the case up until now. We should not deny this avenue of exploration in the same way we should not prevent patients using cannabis medically in the next 5-20 years that it is going to take for the medical approval systems like MHRA, NICE and the FDA to approve them. Uruguay who have just made it a national policy to regulate the sale cannabis and they have managed with the help of Transform Drug Policy Foundation have made both options possible. To allow just one or to deny cannabis social clubs and home growing will continue the black markets problems that are fundamentally what we are trying to rid of.
If the US does decide to make the move of taking cannabis from a Schedule 1 drug to Schedule 2 then this would change the situation in untold ways. It will mean that cannabis has accepted value as a medicine but it will also mean that cannabis sold as medicine will most likely have to come under more regulation than is currently seen in most states and that means the FDA will probably start getting more involved. That DEA loss of funding is going to have to go somewhere, right?
THC is a valuable component of cannabis and is an extremely medically beneficial cannabinoid. Alone it has pain reducing and appetite stimulating, nausea reducing effects which are fantastic for autoimmune diseases, cancer pain and chemotherapy, arthritis and cyclic vomiting syndrome. When combined with CBD it works synergistically and gives each of the individual molecules a stronger and prolonged effect. Patients using cannabis as medicine should not be restricted to strains that aren’t going to work for them and they shouldn’t be restricted because they don’t have the right kind of illness. That really isn’t how illness works or medicine should be treated.
There is a growing international concern that things have been sailing too closely to the winds of the medicalisation of cannabis which is something quite different to having access to cannabis and using it as medicine. The ability for the individual patient to self titrate has even been argued for in the early days of GW Pharmaceuticals by their Executive Chairman Geoffrey Guy, who explained at a Patients Out of Time conference in 2001 that every patient is different and there is “no one size fits all” with this kind of medicine.
We have to remember we are in a war and propaganda and spin are key tools in this as they have been in any violent conflict or any public mind control operation. It’s the power to subtly influence the reader/viewer without them being aware that they are having their mind made up for them.