News In Focus
Parliamentary drug reform group calls for medical use cannabis
The medical use of cannabis should be legalised, according to a report published today by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for drug policy reform.
Based on the results of a seven month inquiry and the findings of an independent review of global evidence commissioned by the group, the report concludes that there is good evidence that medical cannabis helps alleviate the symptoms of chronic pain for thousands of people across the UK.
This includes neuropathic pain, spasticity (often associated with multiple sclerosis), and nausea and vomiting, particularly in the context of chemotherapy. There are also benefits in the management of anxiety.
Estimates of current daily users of medicinal cannabis in the UK range from 30,000 to approaching 1,000,000. The latter, by the campaign group End Our Pain, is based on the fact that Home Office figures put the number of UK cannabis takers (both recreational and medicinal) at 3,000,000, and figures from the USA suggest that approaching 1 in 3 will be for primarily medical reasons.
"If this figure seems high, it is interesting to note that Germany, which is currently introducing legislation to allow legal access to medicinal cannabis, estimates that nearly 800,000 of its citizens may be eligible under their scheme", the report states.
Patients told the inquiry of being driven to trying herbal cannabis, despite the illegality and the unavailability of expert guidance, and of the dramatic improvements to their health that some had experienced. "Many spoke of the ways in which cannabis had enabled them to stop using pharmaceutical drugs with serious side effects, or to 'get their lives back'" – yet many faced added stress and worry induced by having to risk prosecution.
While there is some risk of side effects such as schizophrenia, in the group's survey of medicinal cannabis users, 54% of respondents reported significant to very severe side effects from prescription medicines compared to 8.5% reporting such side effects from their medicinal cannabis use.
With at least 11 European countries and 24 states in the USA already permitting access to medicinal cannabis, and others due to vote on the subject, the report concludes:
"The fact that so many countries now have or are introducing a form of cannabis regulation to ensure access to herbal cannabis to help those with serious chronic conditions, where prescription medicines have been ineffective, further undermines the UK Government’s current position.
"The issue of medicinal cannabis should be treated as a matter of compassion and be viewed separately from the wider issue of drug policy reform."
Caroline Lucas MP, co-chair of the group, commented: "Many hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are already taking cannabis for primarily medical reasons. It is totally unacceptable that they should face the added stress of having to break the law to access their medicine. This a matter of compassion and human rights. The Government should have the political courage to view the issue of medical cannabis separately from any wider drugs reform and act urgently."
Her co-chair Baroness Meacher added: "The findings of our inquiry and review of evidence from across the world are clear. Cannabis works as a medicine for a number of medical conditions. The evidence has been strong enough to persuade a growing number of countries and US states to legalise access to medical cannabis. Against this background, the UK scheduling of cannabis as a substance that has no medical value is irrational."
However a Home Office spokesperson said: "There is a substantial body of scientific and medical evidence to show that cannabis is a harmful drug which can damage people's mental and physical health.
"It is important that medicines are thoroughly trialled to ensure they meet rigorous standards before being placed on the market.
"There is a clear regime in place, administered by the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, to enable medicines, including those containing controlled drugs, to be developed."
Click here to access the report.