The Medical Use of Cannabis

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Cannabis, also known as marijuana, has a controversial reputation. A Class B drug in England, it is often regarded as dangerous and irresponsible. However, cannabis has been suggested to have medicinal properties, and recreational users often report positive side-effects of smoking it.

In some parts of the world, recreational and/or medicinal use of cannabis is permitted. In light of the new review of cannabis launched by the Home Secretary last month, could attitudes be changing?

What is cannabis, and what makes it a drug?

Cannabis derives from a family of flowering plants, and is also referred to as hemp, though hemp products tend to be non-drug derivatives such as fibre and used for items such as baskets or food products.

It is considered a drug due to its constituent psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the part of cannabis that gives you the ‘high’. Users of marijuana report feelings of euphoria, an increase in appetite known to recreational users as the ‘munchies’, but consumption of the drug can also induce feelings of anxiety and paranoia depending on the user. Long-term use has been linked to psychosis, but there are no conclusive reports to support this. The other major constituent of cannabis is cannabidiol (CBD), one of over 60 types of cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis. CBD is the compound said to be responsible for the alleviation of pain and for treatment of other medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. The mechanisms are not yet completely understood, though it’s theorised that CBD interacts with neurotransmitters linked to pain.

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Where is recreational and/or medicinal cannabis legalised?

Recently, it was announced that Canada will legalise recreational marijuana use from October 2018 – medical use is already permitted. In Australia, though illegal, it is decriminalised, and it is permitted for medical use.

In some countries such as Belgium, Argentina, the Netherlands and Belize, recreational use is decriminalised for personal use but individuals mustn’t exceed the gram amount limit which varies.

Only medicinal use is permitted in some countries, including: Czech Republic, Chile, Ecuador, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Israel, Italy, Panama, Poland, San Marino, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

On the other hand, some countries prohibit all uses, such as: Venezuela, United Kingdom, Yemen, Taiwan, Somalia, Singapore and Pakistan.

The only country that appears to currently allow all uses of marijuana is Uruguay.

The UK Home Secretary the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP announced on the 18th June 2018 that a review will be carried out to assess the benefits of medicinal cannabis use, in light of cases like Alfie Dingley’s. A child with a rare form of epilepsy, Alfie was controversially denied cannabinoid oil to attempt to cure his seizures. Alfie’s parents took him to the Netherlands to be treated with cannabinoid oil and reported to see an improvement in the seizures, but the family couldn’t afford to continue treatment abroad.

The review will be carried out by the Home Office and Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies. It will compose two parts, to firstly assess the currently available evidence to support the use of different forms of medicinal cannabis, and then the second part aims to weigh up the the risks and benefits of legalising medical cannabis.

Recreational use is not being considered in this review, though perhaps changing legislation surrounding medical marijuana is a step towards possible decriminalisation of the currently Class B drug.

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Sub-editor 2017/18. Third year Biology with Linguistics student. Interested particularly in global health, genetics and nutrition. Very disposed towards writing about things that haven't quite been explained yet.

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